Here is an article that made both my Mummy head and Scientist head happy this week, so in a change from my normal format, I’m making cord blood donation my reason to be cheerful.
When a baby is born, the placenta and left over blood in the umbilical chord are just chucked in the clinical waste bin. But squirrelled away in that “rubbish” are some really amazing little cells that could save the life of a total stranger. They are haematopoetic stem cells (try saying that after a night on the gas and air) and I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in lab research using them, but now the NHS and the Anthony Nolan charity are collecting them to set up a cord blood bank to treat patients with leukemia.
These stem cells normally lurk quietly in your bone marrow, but every so often they divide and produce a new cell which can make all the different cells in your blood; the red cells that carry oxygen, the platelets that form clots if you cut yourself and the many types of white cells that make up your immune system. It’s an elegant and complex process but sometimes it can go wrong, pumping out cancerous cells instead of healthy ones. When this happens, and if all other treatments have failed, extreme measures are needed to save the patients life. If a donor can be found (and it’s a big if), the patient’s own immune system is deliberately destroyed, including all those stem cells and the new donor stem cells are then transplanted, in the hope that they will start to produce healthy blood, and therefore – a healthy person.
This is where umbilical cords come in. Donor stem cells are usually taken from donated bone marrow, but they can also be found in cord blood. In this country we’re actually importing this blood to treat people (see the lovely story at the end of the article for an example of this) so now attempts are being made to set up a national cord blood bank in the UK. The blood is simply drained out of the umbilical cord once a baby is born and then stored up for a transplant, or if there isn’t quite enough for that, passed on to someone who can use it for research into cancer, degenerative diseases etc. The mother is asked for consent, but if that was me it would seem a bit of a no brainer really – chuck it in the bin or save a life?
At the moment the scheme is only running at a few hospitals in London and Leicester, but some other places will also take donated placentas for research into conditions such as pre- eclampsia ( this is hopefully what happened to E’s, but I can’t say I was thinking much about afterbirth at that point!)
There is probably nothing that could add to the feeling of holding your new born baby for the first time. But a few days later, when the first glow is passed and you’re on the 20th night feed, wouldn’t it be nice to remember that your little one may have saved a life, just by being born?
That is unless you had afterbirth pâté in mind…
(WARNING: this link is to a video that contains bad language and scenes that may put you off your lunch)