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Cord Blood Q and A


+ What is cord blood?
+ Why do we need to have cord blood donated to
    public cord blood banks?
+ What are the advantages of cord blood?
+ Why is cord blood important for ethnic

+ Are there any unfavorable aspects of cord blood?
+ What is cord blood used for?
+ How long does cord blood remain viable?


Why is cord blood important for ethnic minorities?

There are differences in the frequency of certain HLA types among ethnic groups. Therefore, patients are more likely to find a good match among donors from their own ethnic group. African-American patients who need bone marrow transplantation have an especially hard time finding an unrelated bone marrow donor. There are three reasons for this difficulty. The first is simply numerical. African-Americans make up only 12% of the U.S. population and, thus, fewer potential donors are available. The second reason is that there is much greater variation in HLA-types among people with African ancestry than in any other group. And third, some people who have both African and European or other ancestry may have novel combinations of HLA types that are not found in either parental population.

Epidemiological estimates indicate that at least three times as many African-American volunteer bone marrow donors than Caucasian donors would be needed for African-American patients to have a chance that equals that of Caucasian patients to find a match in the same bone marrow donor registries. As a result, African-American patients are much less likely to find a matched, unrelated bone marrow donor. With cord blood, however, a partial match is acceptable and most African-American patients can find a suitable cord blood unit. Large public cord blood bank inventories, therefore, can help make up for the difficulty in finding suitable bone marrow donors for minority patients.

African-American patients, like all other patient groups, may need transplants for leukemia, lymphoma, and inherited diseases such as severe combined immune deficiency (SCID or "boy-in-the-bubble" syndrome). In addition, African-Americans are more likely than others to suffer from sickle cell disease, a sometimes devastating and crippling disease that eventually could be lethal for most patients. At present, the only cure is a hematopoietic stem cell transplant. Early results show that patients with sickle cell disease can benefit from cord blood transplants, either from related, or from unrelated donors. Sickle cell patients do better, however, if transplanted early in life. They have a much better chance to survive after the transplant and they are spared the devastating life-time effects of sickle cell disease.

Note: Unrelated hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is not suitable for all Sickle Cell patients and may be used for certain patients with severe Sickle Cell Disease.

The New York Blood Center's National Cord Blood Program has provided cord blood transplants for over 3,500 patients to date (more than 2,300 in the U.S.) from a growing inventory that currently numbers over 50,000 cord blood units. Of U.S. patients transplanted, 54% have been non-caucasian; 16% of those patients have been African-Americans and 20 of those patients had sickle cell disease. [Click here to read Keone Penn's story].

Patients from other ethnic minority groups also have more difficulty finding a matching unrelated bone marrow donor. Again the problem is numerical. Minority groups simply have smaller numbers from which to draw potential donors. Many Hispanic patients also have ancestors from more than one ethnic group and people from different regions of Asia also tend to differ from Caucasians in their HLA types. For this reason, cord blood banks established in other parts of the world could benefit many U.S. citizens. A Japanese-American, with four Japanese grandparents for example, would have a much better chance of finding a suitable cord blood unit through the Japanese National Cord Blood Program than from a U.S. Cord Blood Bank.

Keone Penn with his mother

Keone Penn was cured of sickle cell disease with a transplant of cord blood from the NCBP.

African-Americans Benefit Especially from Cord Blood Transplants

The chart above shows the percentage of each ethnic group among patients looking for a cord blood match, cord blood donors to the NCBP and U.S. patients receiving cord blood transplants with NCBP units.

The ethnic background of patients looking for a cord blood unit is about the same as the U.S. population. Yet, for ethnic minority patients, the percent among those who have gotten cord blood units from the NCBP equals or exceeds the national percentages.

The chart below shows that patients are more likely to find a cord blood match from a donor within their own ethnic group.

Patients are More Likely to Find a Cord Blood Donor Within Their Same Ethinic Group

This chart explains why the NCBP collects cord blood from a higher proportion of ethnic minority donors: to help minorities have a better chance of finding a suitable match.