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The Need for More Cord Blood Donations

Each year, thousands of people are diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, or certain immune system or genetic metabolic disorder. Many of these patients need an umbilical cord blood or bone marrow transplant (also called a BMT). Because the qualities that make a suitable match for bone marrow or umbilical cord blood are inherited, a match from a sibling or other family member is often checked first. However, 70% of patients do not have a fully-matched donor in their family. For these patients, a transplant of bone marrow or cord blood from an unrelated donor may be their only transplant option.

A bone marrow or cord blood transplant replaces diseased blood-forming cells with healthy cells. Cells for a transplant can come from the marrow of a donor or from the blood of the umbilical cord collected after a baby is born. Sometimes special qualities of umbilical cord blood make it a better choice of blood-forming cells for transplant.

The United States Congress saw the need to help more patients who need a bone marrow or cord blood transplant and passed:

  • The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, Public Law 109-129 (Stem Cell Act 2005) 
  • The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2010, Public Law 111-264 (Stem Cell Act 2010)
  • The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2015, Public Law 114-104 (Stem Cell Act of 2015)
  • The Timely ReAuthorization of Necessary Stem-cell Programs Lends Access to Needed Therapies Act of 2021, Public Law 117-15 (TRANSPLANT Act of 2021)

These acts include support for umbilical cord blood transplant and research.

Learn how umbilical cord blood may be helpful and how these acts are helping patients.

Umbilical cord blood may help when other sources cannot

The chances of a successful bone marrow or cord blood transplant are better when the blood-forming cells are from a donor who closely matches the patient. However, studies show that cord blood may not need to match as closely as is necessary for a marrow donor. Umbilical cord blood may be especially promising for:

  • Patients who have trouble finding a matched marrow donor.
  • Patients from diverse heritages who often have an uncommon tissue type.
  • Patients who have a life-threatening genetic disorder.
  • Patients who need a transplant quickly.

To learn about matching blood-forming cells for a transplant, see HLA Matching: Finding the Best Donor or Cord Blood Unit.

Racial and ethnic diversity is needed

Although cord blood can help patients who cannot find a well-matched marrow donor, matching is still important. Cord blood is especially needed from communities such as:

  • Black and African American
  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Asian
  • Hispanic and Latino
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
  • Two or more races

Umbilical cord blood may help more people from many diverse racial and ethnic communities have a second chance at life.

Helping patients

The Stem Cell Acts of 2005, 2010, 2015, and 2021 help patients who have life-threatening diseases and may need a cord blood or marrow transplant. These acts:

  • Started the National Cord Blood Inventory (NCBI). The goal of the NCBI is to collect and store at least 150,000 new cord blood units. These cord blood units are used for patients who need a transplant but do not have a matching donor within their family. To continue to help the success of transplants, the NCBI banks will provide additional cord blood units for research.
  • Increased in funding for marrow and umbilical cord blood transplantation and research through the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program (CWBYCTP).

One function of the program is to partner with a network of cord blood banks, including some banks that get Federal support to build the NCBI. In this role, the program works with its network of cord blood banks to recruit expectant parents for umbilical cord blood donations and to distribute cord blood units listed on the registry of the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program, also called the Be The Match Registry®. The registry is a listing of potential marrow donors and donated cord blood units.

Learn how patients who need a transplant are being given hope by the NMDP RegistrySM.

Having more cord blood units available through the NCBI and the Cord Blood Coordinating Center means that more patients have a better chance of receiving a potentially life-saving transplant.

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