The U.'s bank would be part of a nationwide network of banks that could make donations of cord blood stem cells available to those who need them regardless of where they are. A private bank has also been set up in Sandy where families pay to store cord blood that will be available for their use only.
"The units collected for public banks will benefit people in need of transplants all over the country," Linda Kelley, director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Therapy Facility at the U., said.
Kelley was one of 12 experts who worked on an April 2005 report by The National Academies that called for a national cord blood policy board to coordinate the donation, collection and use of umbilical cord blood nationwide. She also has worked closely with Sen. Orrin Hatch on the issue. Hatch invited her to testify on the topic in Washington, D.C.
Like bone marrow and embryonic stem cells, umbilical cord cells are used to treat blood disorders, sickle cell anemia, leukemia and other types of cancer.
Cord blood, however, is easier to collect and less controversial than embryonic cells because it already exists in the umbilical cord. When embryonic cells are collected, the embryos they come from are ultimately destroyed; whereas cord cells are collected after delivery from the umbilical cord which is traditionally discarded.
"[The use of] cord stem cells is gaining support because they are noncontroversial," Kelley said.
Cord blood stem cells also are a valuable alternative for patients in urgent need of a transplant because they are "less prone to rejection from the host, which means they can be matched to a wider range of people" Kelley said.
And because a nationwide network of banks enables all donations of cord blood to be tested and stored, patients could receive help within weeks instead of the months it takes to collect and process bone marrow cells.
Kelley and her staff members are distributing information about the public bank at hospitals and clinics in anticipation of its opening.
For now, blood donations can only be made at University Hospital; however, women interested in donating are urged to contact Kelley at 801-585-6262 or linda.kelley@ hsc.utah.edu to make arrangements.
Linda Kelley can be contacted at 801-585-6262.