Page last updated at 11:01 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

'I wanted my baby's cord blood to save'

By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC Online

Natalie Salama-Levy
Natalie wants to aid others

When Natalie Salama-Levy gives birth to her second child at the end of next month she wanted to be able to donate its cord blood.

But despite the fact that she is prepared to donate to help others, she cannot.

"I am having the baby at the Royal Free, London, which is a very large hospital. My consultant there was very supportive, but unfortunately they are not one of the hospitals that donate cord blood which is a real shame," said 37-year-old Natalie.

"Why would you not want to save a life from something that would be thrown away otherwise."

Saving blood

Cord blood, like bone marrow, can help patients survive deadly diseases such as leukaemia.

Natalie's husband Lionel is the chair of 'The cord blood charity.' He was inspired to become involved following the death of a close friend from leukaemia.

Sadly these cells, which can save lives, are being thrown away every day
Camilla Judge

But the Anthony Nolan Trust (ANT) warns that missing out on donations like Natalie's is a big loss.

They have just one storage centre from one hospital and the The NHS Cord Blood Bank collects cord blood from five hospitals across London and Hertfordshire.

There are also private facilities across the UK.

But a spokesman for ANT said they wanted to see a bigger commitment from the government and that by doing so more lives could be saved.

"There has been a 15% increase in cord blood usage in the last few years but 85% of the cord blood units used are imported by The Anthony Nolan Trust," he said.

"We want the Government to commit to funding a national cord blood collection programme. We have many expectant mothers asking to donate the stem cells from their placenta but finding that their local maternity unit doesn't have the ability to do this. "

Normally discarded

Cord blood, like bone marrow, can help patients survive deadly diseases such as leukaemia.

It contains potent "stem cells", which, if placed back into the bone marrow, can start producing the right sort of cells.

Anthony Nolan Trust says 50,000 cord bloods would meet the UK's need for transplant and research purposes
NHS has collected 14,000 cords over 13 years
279 of these have been used for transplant
The Trust has imported 268 cords over last 4 years
Two people die every day waiting for a transplant

The umbilical cord is normally thrown away after birth, so, unlike bone marrow donation, there is no discomfort or risk to the donor.

John Goldman, professor of haematology at Imperial College, London, said that although a tissue match from a sibling was the best possible outcome, that cord blood is a valuable resource, which is under utilised.

"The source of so called stem cells that constitute bone marrow can be either a brother or sister an unrelated adult donor or the cells present in the umbilical cord or placenta of a neonate.

"They have to be matched but the levels can be a little less stringent.

"We should be collecting for the public sector from about 20-30 hospitals in the UK. That is a reasonable target."

A spokesperson from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said, "We support the call by the Antony Nolan Trust for a national cord blood banking programme which will collect and store stem cells for future use. Such a system will ensure that trained technicians are present to collect the blood so that doctors and midwives can concentrate on caring for mother and baby after the birth.

"A national cord blood bank programme that is regulated and open to all when the need arises is a good thing. Careful planning is needed so that the appropriate infrastructures are in place to provide this service."

Expansion plans

A Department of Health Spokesperson said: "The Government is proud of the support it has given the NHS Cord Blood Bank in the past and we remain committed to it. It is the fourth largest in the world. The Department of Health is funding expansion of the bank further, as part of our strategy on the collection of cord blood units.

"We have agreed business plans with NHS Blood and Transplant, who manage the service, to invest nearly £10 million to increase the size of the bank to 20,000 stored units by 2013. The units are available to all NHS patients."

Mother Camilla Judge said that when her daughter, Darcey, was born two years ago she had been happy to donate and finds it comforting that her daughter's cord blood might be being used.

"I found out about cord blood donation through a passing comment in an NCT class," said the 34-year-old from London.

"My brother had cancer so I have already joined the bone marrow and blood donor register

"Sadly these cells, which can save lives are being thrown away every day."

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