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Cord blood donation

02 April 2017
Volume 25 · Issue 4


Advances in cell culture led to the first umbilical cord blood banks 25 years ago, but now the NHS only accepts donations at six hospitals. George Winter explores the practical and ethical difficulties

In the late 1970s, while working in a hospital virus lab, I once took receipt of a donated human placenta and umbilical cord. It was to enable me to harvest cells capable of supporting the growth of viruses. Today, cell culture has almost vanished from routine virus diagnostic labs, but new applications have been found for the umbilical cord. For example, in 1988 the first successful cord-cell transplant to a sibling with Fanconi's anemia took place. This, in turn, led to the establishment in 1992 of the first public and private cord blood (CB) banks (Gunning, 2005).

In February 2017, Elspeth Fuller (2017) launched a UK-wide petition to give mothers a chance to donate stem cells by giving away umbilical cords after childbirth. According to the NHS Cord Blood Bank (2017) website, CB is enriched with stem cells that are useful for treating malignancies such as acute lymphoblastic leukaemia; bone marrow failure; haemaglobinopathies; immunodeficiencies; and metabolic disorders.

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