Few subjects in contemporary America cause the stir created by that of

stem cell research. Daunting ethical questions, particularly regarding

how stem cells are gathered, contrast the almost giddy hopes of

proponents who believe the cells are the Rosetta Stone to

understanding human health.

The emotional wattage surrounding research into stem cells – those

from which all tissue is generated – is mostly concerned with the way

in which the cells are collected. Embryonic stem cell collection is by

far the most emotionally charged method as it deals with research into

the unborn. However, stem cells can also be collected from blood

trapped in the umbilical cord at delivery, a method that satisfies

even vociferous opponents of embryonic stem cell research.

While direct-consumer marketing has proven successful for the largest

cord blood banks, such as Cord Blood Registry and Viacord, DomaniCell,

a Canada-based bank with offices in Hackensack, has turned toward

hospital-based marketing. On January 4 CentraState Hospital of

Freehold announced it had partnered with DomaniCell in the bank’s

first such deal in central New Jersey. The partnership, according to

DomaniCell spokesman Lee Buckler, allows CentraState to brand the

program with the hospital’s name instead of the bank’s.

Buckler said DomaniCell is in talks with Princeton Medical Center

about a similar program, but could not talk further on the matter.

Blood trapped in the umbilcus, also known as cord blood, is rich in

stem cells, which themselves are genetically unique to the baby and

the family. At delivery, the umbilical cord is pinched before being

cut and the blood within saved for storage at a cord blood bank. By

harvesting stem cells from what otherwise might be considered waste

matter, scientists skirt the ethical mine field laid out by embryonic

experimentation.

So far, companies offering cord blood storage have settled on

direct-to-parents marketing. Advertisements in baby magazines and

other publications and programs aimed at expecting parents have

spelled out the advantages of storing cord blood for future use. The

general idea is that by storing stem cell-rich blood (which,

incidentally, must be collected in the first few minutes after

delivery), doctors of the future will be able to retrieve the cells to

either regenerate damaged tissue or reinvigorate immune systems

depleted by chemotherapy treatments. The main benefit is the lack of

rejection by the body as the cells would not come from a foreign

source.

The deal with CentraState also is designed to streamline the process.

Under traditional cord blood storage programs, parents would register

with a bank and receive a collection kit. On the day of the birth,

parents would need to take the kit with them, turn it over to the

hospital staff for collection, then retrieve it before sending it to

the bank themselves.

CentraState’s program supplies the kits and handles the labeling and

turnover to DomaniCell, which will then store the blood. Parents need

only register for the program and can do so as late as arrival to the

maternity ward. Contact CentraState at 866-236-8727 or visit

www.centrastate.com.

Dawn Kline, director of maternal child health at CentraState, said the

hospital was contacted directly by DomaniCell and entered negotiations

last summer. Though Kline did not say how many parents have enrolled

for the program, she said that it has been growing in popularity since

the first sample was taken in early fall.

Kline recommends interested parents discuss the prospect of storing

cord blood with the OB-GYN and understand when it is unnecessary.

Cells collected from a first child are the most important, she says.

Though a person’s cells are a perfect match for the individual who

bears them, they also carry familial genes and can be used for any

member of the immediate family, up to grandparents. Storing blood from

every birth, therefore, would be unnecessary, though not expensive.

DomaniCell offers storage up to 18 years for $1,912.50, or $2,250 if

paid yearly at $125 a payment.

Though researchers have been looking seriously into the potential of

stem cells for about 30 years, progress has been slow. Breakthroughs

are cited in news accounts across the country, but there have so far

been few concrete examples of tissue grown from stem cells being

introduced back into the body from whence it came. The one getting the

most notice right now is happening at Case Western Reserve University

in Cleveland, where scientists are growing a bladder from stem cells

that will be introduced to a child.

While there are still numerous questions – from how to grow new tissue

that does not contain the same problems being treated to the limits

stem cell research can reach – the heady sense of possibilities is

enticing. So far, says Buckler, scientists have seen mixed results.

But he cautions against being too critical of the process right now.

After all, what is unknown today might well be discovered tomorrow,

and if it is, only those who thought ahead would be able to take

advantage of treatment options in the future.

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