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
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
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
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.