I must admit to having a fascination for the top of umbilical cord blood and umbilical cord blood donations. Much has been said and written over the past five years about harvesting stem cells from unused embryos from IVF treatment and from the fetuses obtained through pregnancy terminations. I think one of the things that causes this fascination with the topic is the wide range of medical conditions that stem cells could help - yet we argue about the harvesting of those stem cells when umbilical cord blood, which is thrown away as hospital refuse, could be one of the answers.
Once again the beneficial use of umbilical cord blood stem cells has hit the news. In Australia it seems we don't use these stem cells to treat adults, only children, and only for a very narrow range of conditions.
A 43 Victorian father of two was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. His prognosis was basically, 'enjoy life now - you don't have much time left'. Stems cells harvested from umbilical cord blood donations has proven to be an effective treatment for his condition. However, since umbilical cord blood has so few stem cells, the treatment could not be undertaken in Australia. To get the treatment he had to travel to the US where a technique to reproduce the stem cells up to 800-fold has been developed.
He is now free from the leukemia that was weeks away from killing him. Whilst the treatment is not perfect, in fact this man nearly died from the complications. He didn't die, the leukemia has been stopped and he can live a normal healthy life with his wife and children - all because some one somewhere decided to join the umbilical cord blood donations program.
Perhaps it's time for governments to put in place strong umbilical cord blood donation policies that encourage the collection, research and use of these stem cell instead of bickering over how they are obtained.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of babies are born every day. If every one of those parents agreed to the donation of the babies cord blood, the quantity would be such that research and treatment could be undertaken side-by-side in the hospitals.
Do you have a problem with umbilical cord blood donations? I know I don't!
I absolutely agree that more government policies need to be in place to support public donation, and would add that umbilical blood donation in general should be a more widespread topic for discussion. Most parents have no idea that they can donate, what their umbilical cord donation would be used for, and the steps they'd need to take before delivery to get a cord collection kit.