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The Importance of Cord Blood Education for the Future of Medicine

July 2018
Salmaan Dalvi, PhD

Salmaan Dalvi, PhD

  • Cord blood has evolved from medical waste to a rich source of stem cells.
  • UK lags behind other countries in umbilical cord blood banking
  • Midwives play a key role

Medicine, as a field, continues to be greatly revolutionized by continuous advancements in both treatment and technology. What is capable of being done today, centuries ago would have been almost unfathomable.

Since the first successful human umbilical cord blood transplant was performed in 1988, cord blood has evolved from medical waste to a rich source of stem cells. These cells can be transplanted today to treat patients with blood diseases such as leukaemia and lymphoma, immune deficiency diseases, and inherited genetic disorders. Clinical trials suggest that tomorrow they will be used to treat neurological disorders including autism, cerebral palsy and spinal cord injury.

Every day, leading clinicians and pioneers such as Dr. Eliane Gluckman, who carried out that first cord blood transplant, and Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, who established the world’s largest cord blood transplant program, are making huge strides forward in the advancement of stem cell therapies and treatments. And yet, despite this, thousands of litres of precious cord blood are discarded every year as medical waste.

In my opinion, this is due to three major challenges. Firstly, there is not enough professional education on the importance of this liquid of life. The clinical community, and the majority of the United Kingdom population, are unaware of the potential of storing cord blood.

Secondly, there is limited funding for the NHSBT and Anthony Nolan for their respective programs, whereas private organizations or hybrid public-private banks such as Precious Cells who tried to help with cord blood collection are met with hostile reception and no funding to collect cord blood donations. Thus, hybrid organizations must find alternative resources required to undergo such a major project.

In the UK, cord blood and cord tissue are collected by highly specialized technologists and not obstetricians or midwives. The technologists who collect cord blood help midwives perform routine tasks, such as venipuncture, thereby allow midwives to concentrate on giving undivided care to the mother and her baby.  This has created specialized employment for technologists with a first degree.

The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Stem Cell Transplantation called for more facilities in the UK to increase the collection and banking of valuable cord blood in 2012 and then again in 2015. “The UK is lagging behind other countries in its development of public cord blood banking”, said Labor MP Mark Tami, chair of the APPG.

Be The Match CME podcast with Kim Petrella RNThirdly, the nation as a whole needs to understand that cord blood saves lives. There are over 80 different diseases for which stem cell transplants are the standard of care. One option for patients in need of a transplant is to search for a matching bone marrow donor, the other is a banked cord blood donation that does not have to be perfectly matched. In my opinion, this is often the best resource as it is an already tested, high quality product readily available to the patient in a relatively short time.

Midwives can make a difference by receiving continuing medical education about cord blood from training providers such as Be The Match in the USA. Midwives are also encouraged to join the Cord Blood Association, a global advocacy force representing the interests of the cord blood community in legislation, regulation, media relations, health professional education and parent education.

I would encourage midwives who are at the frontline of caring for pregnant mothers in the United Kingdom to learn more about the ever growing field of cord blood medicine.

Dr. Salmaan Dalvi is a member of the Board of Directors to the Cord Blood Association and is a consultant to the stem cell industry.