M.D. Anderson Researchers Target Minorities for Cord Blood Donations To Address Bone Marrow Shortages
Researchers at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center are using donations of umbilical cord blood -- which is quickly "emerging as an alternative to treat" at least 50 diseases such as cancer, cell anemia and Tay-Sachs disease -- to help offset a "shortage of transplant material for minority patients," the Houston Chronicle reports. Bone marrow and cord blood contain stem cells that can transform into blood or immune cells and can be particularly important in reconstituting a patient's blood supply after chemotherapy or radiation, according to the Chronicle.
According to data from the National Marrow Donor Program, each year thousands of people in the U.S. are unable to find suitable bone marrow donations, and the majority of them are minorities. Finding bone marrow matches for minorities is "more difficult" because "genes are more diverse" among blacks, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, according to the Chronicle.
For a successful donation, a minimum of six particular bone marrow genes must match between the donor and patient. However, when cord blood is used instead of bone marrow, only four of the six genes need to match. While bone marrow transplants still are more common than cord blood transplants, the number of cord blood transplants worldwide has more than tripled in the last few years, according to Elizabeth Shpall, director of M.D. Anderson's cord blood bank and a professor of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy.
M.D. Anderson in 2005 began a campaign to increase minority cord blood donations, aiming to collect more than 60% of cord blood donations from racial and ethnic groups. Minorities now make up more than 70% of cord blood donations, compared with about 50% in 2005, the Chronicle reports.
Researchers said the campaign is responsible for high donations from Hispanics. Before the effort, about one-third of Hispanics declined the opportunity to donate cord blood -- mainly because of religious reasons and a fear that cord blood would be used for cloning -- though the refusal rate now is about 10%.
Richard Champlin, chair of M.D. Anderson's department of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy, said, "Cord blood possibly could eventually replace bone marrow one day," adding that researchers "still like a perfect match from the patient's family member, but innovations could change that" (Ackerman, Houston Chronicle, 3/24).