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Stem cell donations, research launched at HMC

One of two Georgia hospitals with LifeCord program

Photo by Elaine Rackley: A Henry Medical Center maternity patient, Kara Thompson, of Jnoesboro, said she will donate her umbilical cord to help in finding a cure for Alzheimer's. Her grandmother, Ruth Annie Walker, recently died as a result of the disease. The expectant mother’s cord blood (stem cells) will be used to help cancer patients, or for research.

Photo by Elaine Rackley: A Henry Medical Center maternity patient, Kara Thompson, of Jnoesboro, said she will donate her umbilical cord to help in finding a cure for Alzheimer's. Her grandmother, Ruth Annie Walker, recently died as a result of the disease. The expectant mother’s cord blood (stem cells) will be used to help cancer patients, or for research.

A stem cell program designed to aid medical research and help cancer patients, was started this week at Henry Medical Center.

The LifeCord program is sponsored by the area’s LifeSouth Blood Centers. In it, new mothers are asked to donate umbilical cords immediately after giving birth.

The Henry County Medical Center (HMC) is the second hospital in Georgia to participate in the LifeCord program. The other is the Northeast Georgia Medical Center, in Gainesville, according to Rachel Booth, a LifeSouth cellular therapy specialist.

LifeCord is the first non-profit public cord bank in the Southeast. It was formed in 1999, when the area’s LifeSouth Community Blood Centers teamed up with the University of Florida, to create the first public cord blood bank in the Southeast, according to the blood center’s web site.

“LifeCord provides a wonderful opportunity for parents to donate their child’s cord blood, and potentially save a life in the future,” said Barbara Rainone, HMC’s director of laboratory services. “We are excited to know that because of our hospital’s participation, our community will be instrumental in building up the cord blood bank.

“Henry Medical Center is the second hospital in Georgia to partner with LifeCord and offer this service to the parents in our community.”

The cord blood (stem cells), which was once considered medical waste, is used to help leukemia and lymphoma cancer patients, who may not be able to find a marrow match, said Booth. The cord blood also can be used for researching what other diseases can be cured by cord blood cells, she added.

Thursday, Kara Thompson, of Jonesboro, was minutes from delivering her baby boy at Henry Medical Center, when she explained why she elected to donate her umbilical cord once her delivery was over.

“My grandmother, [Ruth Annie Walker] recently passed away with Alzheimer's,” said Thompson, 23. “I know that stem cell research will help to find a cure. Alzheimer’s is hard for any family to go through, that’s why I am willing to help.”

With the stem cell program in place, 89 units of cord blood have been shipped to patients all over the world, according to Michael Becker, district community development coordinator for LifeSouth.

Cord blood is found in the blood vessels of an umbilical cord and placenta of a developing baby. Experts say it provides a rich source of blood stem cells which can be used in transplants for patients suffering with cancers that affect blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes.

“It is a pretty successful program, the population is becoming more educated about the need for the donations,” said Booth. “New moms and pregnant moms are curious about it. We get a lot of inquiries from expectant mothers.”

The LifeCord program works in conjunction with the National Marrow Donor program to find a good match for the donated cord blood, said Booth.

After a cancer patient’s diseased marrow is destroyed, the transplanted cord blood stem cells act like seeds to re-grow healthy, functioning marrow, experts say. Cord blood offers some practical advantages over traditional adult marrow or stem cell donations, they say. While the tissue from an adult donor must be matched with near pinpoint accuracy with a recipient, cord blood can succeed with less perfect matching. It’s also tested, frozen and ready to go, saving time for patients in need, according to the LifeSouth web site.