One simple, altruistic act after childbirth can potentially save the life of another person. The umbilical cords cut from babies shortly after birth contain lifesaving stem cells in their blood, which in turn can be used for research into cures for many common diseases. Donated cord blood can also be used for treatment of hematologic ailments such as leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia.
The Cleveland Cord Blood Center
(CCBC) is one of just 14 nonprofit organizations that collect cord blood for research and treatment. “We take the cord blood donated by families after they have their babies and use it to treat leukemia,” explains Marcie Finney, associate director of the CCBC. “One of our donors calls it the ‘ultimate recycling program.’”
Marcie Finney, assoc. director of CCBC
After childbirth, most mothers choose to either dispose of the umbilical cord or pay to store it in a bank in case of future ailments in their child. But some choose to donate the cords – and the blood – to the CCBC. “That process is altruistic,” says Finney. “We have treated over 300 patients.”
The CCBC was founded in 2007 by Mary J. Laughlin, who in 1993 performed the world's first successful umbilical cord blood transplant in an adult leukemia patient. Today, the center has sent cord blood to 14 countries, while 70 to 75 percent of the blood stays in the United States.
Additionally, the CCBC researches how cord blood can be used in the development of topical wound treatments, and how they play a role in developing T-cell therapies for cancer patients and diabetes immunity.
Currently, the Cleveland Clinic
main campus, Fairview Hospital
and Hillcrest Hospital
are the only area facilities that participate in the cord donation program at CCBC. “When the cord blood is collected, there is no harm to the mother or baby,” stresses Finney. “A lot of people doing a little bit of effort has a huge impact.”
The center now has 24 employees and is funded through grants from the Abraham J. and Phyllis Katz Foundation
and the Dr. Donald J. and Ruth Weber Goodman Philanthropic Fund, as well as private and public donations. “The costs are astronomical,” says Finney of the center’s storage, research and operations expenses. “For every 100 [cords] we bank, only one will get picked for transplant.”
But Finney and her team press on in their quests to find cures and treatments through cord stem cells for so many blood diseases.