Precious blood

December 12, 1997

by Ric Dugan / staff photographer

Precious blood


Staff Writer

Janice Hahn was born Monday, Nov. 3, at Washington County Hospital. She's not a big baby; she weighed only 5 pounds, 14 ounces when she arrived.

But the blood drawn from the umbilical cord and placenta that nourished her during the previous nine months may have the power someday to save her life, the life of a future sibling or even her parents.


Janice's parents, David and Tina Hahn of Waynesboro, Pa., enrolled in a program to bank her cord blood.

Cord blood contains stem cells, the parent cells for all blood cells, according to Dr. Paul McCurdy, director of the Blood Resources Program in the Blood Division of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of National Institutes of Health. They reproduce into other blood cells - oxygen-carrying red cells, infection-fighting white cells and platelets, which are necessary for clotting.

Stem cells also are found in bone marrow and are the key to successful bone marrow transplants used to treat people with leukemia and other cancers and serious blood disorders.

The transplant of stem cells from cord blood is relatively new - the first was performed in 1988 - but the treatment holds great promise.

* Availability would be a big advantage. More than 10,000 umbilical cords are thrown away in the U.S. every day, according to International Cord Blood Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to umbilical cord stem cell research. The foundation encourages doctors to inform patients of the option to bank their children's umbilical cord blood for their child or family, or to donate it for research or for others to use.

* Bone marrow suitable for transplant is hard to find. The best match would be from an identical twin, according to Dr. Ann M. Tramontana, the Hagerstown obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered Janice Hahn and drew her umbilical blood.

A search to find an acceptable unrelated donor can take months and may be fruitless for members of ethnic and racial minorities. Most potential donors in the National Marrow Donor Program are of western European lineage, according to the Feb. 1, 1995, edition of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

* Unlike harvesting stem cells from bone marrow, harvesting stem cells from cord blood doesn't require anesthesia, surgery or hospitalization of the donor. The blood is drawn from the placenta and umbilical cord after the baby is born, after the cord is clamped and cut.

* Because the stem cells from cord blood are immature, they are less fussy than those from bone marrow, leading to fewer rejections, according to the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Preliminary information indicates that umbilical cord stem cells don't require as close a match as do bone marrow stem cells, McCurdy said.

How long can the cord blood be stored?

Fifteen years is the longest cord blood has been stored - frozen in liquid nitrogen. The technology is that new, according to Kris Bondi, director of corporate communications for Cord Blood Registry, a company that banks cord blood at University of Arizona. Two cord blood samples - one that had been frozen for 15 years, and one for a week - were compared and determined to be of the same quality, Bondi said.

McCurdy is reserving his judgment. "We don't know how long they'll last in the freezer," he said.

A 5-year, $30 million National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute study of umbilical cord blood transplants from unrelated, newborn donors was announced in October 1996.

One of the areas the study will look at is the effectiveness of cord blood transplants in adults weighing more than 88 pounds.

Cord Blood Registry cites 50 adult cord blood transplants among the 500 performed as of March 1997.

In previous studies, the frequency of rejection increases above 88 pounds, according to McCurdy.

Tina Hahn first learned about banking cord blood from her sister who had seen a television program about it. The couple investigated several options, and decided - well in advance of Janice's due date - to go with the Cord Blood Registry program.

Although there is no history of cancer or genetic disease in their families, the Hahns want the security of having a perfect match for Janice if she ever would need it.

"It's just insurance," said David Hahn.

"It's a once in a lifetime thing," Tina Hahn said.

Parents have to weigh options

There are several commercial options for storing a baby's cord blood. David and Tina Hahn chose to bank Janice's cord blood with Cord Blood Registry, a California-based company with a processing and storage facility at University of Arizona. A collection kit was sent to the couple.

Dr. Ann M. Tramontana, Tina Hahn's Hagerstown obstetrician, performed the collection using large syringes provided in the kit.

David Hahn shipped the blood overnight in the insulated container provided.

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