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New Way To Help Umbilical Cord Blood Cells Can Save Sick Children

Anne Krueger has had two late-term miscarriages in the last two years.

When she got pregnant again, the Spokane Valley woman went to her doctor every week for the first five months. Her obstetrician would listen for the baby’s heartbeat. Now, with just eight weeks to go, this baby looks healthy.

That’s why when Krueger saw a segment on the “Today” show about how umbilical cord blood could be used to save other people’s children, she had to try.

“I just sat there and cried,” Krueger said. “God has blessed us with a baby, and this is the least we could do.”

The blood’s stem cells are used to fight cancer and blood disorders. Krueger, 35, will be the first Spokane-area mother to donate to the International Cord Blood Foundation.

“It’s fairly new,” said Glen Hiss, Krueger’s doctor. Nurses at the Sacred Heart Medical Center maternity ward said they hadn’t heard of the procedure until May.

Stem cells in cord blood are the same type as in bone marrow, but extracting marrow requires anesthesia and poses a risk to the donor. To preserve the blood, a doctor simply extracts it from the umbilical cord with a syringe after a mother gives birth.

“They throw it away (otherwise),” said Krueger, 35. “It’s not going to hurt me, and it’s not going to hurt my baby.”

A group of Duke University Medical Center physicians last month announced cord blood cell transplants appear to be safer than marrow transplants.

“It looks like you need less degree of a match,” said Marie Staie, director of donor and banking services at the cord blood foundation. “The cells are naive. They haven’t lived for 20 years inside someone’s immune system.”

Cord blood cells are less likely to be rejected, according to an article last year in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Most people who volunteer to donate bone marrow are Caucasian; that means minorities suffering from leukemia or other diseases requiring stem cell transplants have a tougher time finding matches. Staie said that will change if cord blood extraction becomes routine.

There have been about 300 such transplants in the United States. Cord blood is used only to treat children, since the amount of cells extracted is so small.

The procedure has generated its share of controversy, too. Companies are pushing mothers not just to donate their cord blood, but to preserve it for their children in case they get sick later - for a fee.

“There are a lot of ethical issues,” Hiss said. “Who stores it? Who has access to it? Is it something only the rich will use?”

The Cord Blood Registry, a California-based company, charges a one-time-per-family $195 enrollment fee. Then, with each deposit of blood, families pay $895. To store the extracted blood, families pay $75 each year.

The Cord Blood Registry is the major sponsor of the non-profit foundation. Other companies charge annual storage fees as high as $150.

Krueger said she isn’t planning on banking her cord blood. “We figure if we donate, someone will be kind enough to donate it to us,” she said. “Hopefully, you know, our baby will never need it.”

And Krueger isn’t planning on selling it, either - someone even called her offering to buy the sample.

“I want it to help someone. That’s the whole reason I’m doing it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo