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Cord Blood: A Small Amount Does A Lot Of Good


An umbilical cord after birth yields about three to five ounces of cell-rich cord blood. That's not a lot, but enough of it can help treat more than 80 or so diseases. A North Texas oncologist says education's key to boosting limited supply. 

Dr. Suhail Sharif is a surgical oncologist with Texas Health Fort Worth.

Interview Highlights:

What’s special about cord blood: “Cord blood has immature blood cells, and you can use these stem cells to, basically, harvest into these patients that have problems with their own blood; for example, because of leukemia or lymphoma or other types of diseases that affect their own blood lines. These can grow into the red blood cells if [they're] deficient or the white blood cells if [they're] deficient or even platelets, for that matter.”

Cord blood cells vs. bone marrow cells: “Cord blood stem cells are actually stored in a blood bank that you can use on patients that need it. But bone marrow, you actually have to go through a process of harvesting the bone marrow. It’s a very painful procedure for whoever is donating the bone marrow. And then they have to go through an extensive and rigorous testing, not only for infectious causes, but also to see if they match with the patient. And then they have to harvest, and they basically have to transplant it. Now, that whole process can take a few months. If you just have cord blood stem cells, these have already been stored and are readily available. And if you have a match with the donor and the recipient, you can use them right away.”

Cord blood is limited in supply: “If you think about the blood that is in the placenta and the cord, it’s in the range of three to five ounces. That’s about like half a cup. That’s the reason why you have to gather it from a lot of patients. At this point, there are, I believe, close to 175,000 matched cord blood available."

But it’s not enough: “If you think about what percentage of deliveries actually translate into donating cord blood, it’s very miniscule. That’s why we’re educating the parents about the benefits of cord blood so they can donate to a public blood bank so that we can use it in treating patients with deadly cancers and so forth in our community.”  

For more information:

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.