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Cord Blood/Adult Stem Cells Saving Lives

Baltimore Families Given Chance to Save Lives through Cord Blood Donations

MCC Instrumental in Creating Program

Baltimore families can now save lives by donating their baby’s umbilical cord to the national cord blood registry, thanks to the first public cord blood program in Maryland.

The free program, launched October 11, 2010, at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore in partnership with Community Blood Services of New Jersey, will help collect the 97% of cord blood that currently is thrown away. Umbilical cord blood is rich in non-controversial adult stem cells that can be used to successfully treat more than 90 life-threatening diseases, including many types of cancers and blood disorders. Donation is harmless to the mother and baby and completely painless.

Until now, mothers in Maryland did not have the opportunity to donate to a public blood bank. Their only option was to throw the cord away or pay for private banking.

“Allowing parents to make the harmless and life-saving donation of their baby’s umbilical cord fits beautifully with Catholic hospitals’ mission of providing life-affirming health care,” said Baltimore Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. “There is a common misperception that the Catholic Church is opposed to stem cell research, and that is wrong. The Church has long supported cord stem cell research as opposed to embryonic cell research, which destroys lives but has yet to cure a single disease.”

Attending the announcement of the new program with Archbishop O’Brien and officials from Mercy hospital and Community Blood Services was the Shaffer family. Toddler Mason Shaffer’s life was saved last year through a stem cell transplant.

The adult stem cells in umbilical cord blood have been saving lives for decades. Leukemia and sickle cell disease are just two of the diseases which can be reversed with a cord blood transplant. The Catholic Church has long promoted the use of adult stem cells to treat disease and injury. They have none of the ethical issues associated with embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells are the only type of stem cells that have proven to be useful for treating patients.

This new collaboration is the culmination of a year’s research and planning by the Maryland Catholic Conference to identify partnerships between Maryland hospitals and blood banks across the United States. “Thanks to Dr. Nancy Paltell and the Maryland Catholic Conference for their instrumental role” in developing this partnership, said Archbishop O’Brien.

A crucial goal of the new partnership is to increase the number of African-American cord blood donors, who are extremely underrepresented in the donor population. St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore will be joining the partnership soon and additional Catholic hospitals in Maryland may form other partnerships in the near future.

Maryland Catholic Conference advocates for the Church's public policy positions before the Maryland General Assembly and other civil officials. The Conference represents all three dioceses with territory in the state – the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington.

Mercy Medical Center is home to the nationally acclaimed Weinberg Center for Women’s Health and Medicine. For more information, visit Mercy online at www.mdmercy.com or call 1-800-MD-MERCY.

In 2005, New Jersey became the first state in the U.S. to create a publicly funded umbilical cord blood and placental stem cell bank and education program. Community Blood Services took over all operations of the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank (NJCBB) in 2007, becoming the state’s only public cord blood bank for the State of New Jersey. Community Blood Services is one of the largest independent blood centers serving New Jersey and New York State, supplying blood and blood products to more than 30 hospitals in those states.

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Photo courtesy Owen Sweeney III/The Catholic Review