Umbilical cord blood transplants become standard

Sarah and Marc discovered that in the Philadelphia area, even if parents realized umbilical cords were more than just waste products of childbirth, there was no easy way to donate the tissue. So they established the Mason Shaffer Foundation to change that.

This month, Temple University Hospital launched a program in collaboration with the foundation and the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank to educate expectant parents and enable them to donate in a convenient way - at no charge to them or Temple. The foundation provides the educational material, and the cord-blood bank covers the collection costs, which are offset by health insurance reimbursement for transplants.

Three years ago, Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood became the foundation's first cord-blood donation center.

Temple, however, is expected to help fill the desperate need for a more racially diverse cord-blood stockpile. That need was recognized by the federal Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, which included funding that will help underwrite the first year of Temple's program.

Of the 3,200 babies delivered at Temple each year, 65 percent are African American, and 30 percent are Hispanic.

"Ethnically diverse groups are underrepresented as cord-blood donors and have a lower chance of finding a matched donor," said Dimitrios Mastrogiannis, Temple's director of maternal fetal medicine.

"Our biggest challenge is building diversity," echoed Roger Mrowiec, scientific director of Community Blood Services in Montvale, N.J., which runs the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank. "A Caucasian has about a 95 percent chance of finding a match. For Hispanics, that falls to 70 percent, and for African Americans, it's only 60 percent."

Mrowiec spoke at a Temple news conference where the grown-ups were happily upstaged by the foundation's eponymous poster boy. Although Mason is small for his age and blind in his left eye, his transplant cured his disease: malignant infantile osteopetrosis.

"Do you know why we're here?" his mother asked him.

"Because I got cells that fixed my bones," the precocious preschooler piped up.

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Umbilical cord blood transplants become standard

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