Blood from umbilical cords--a byproduct of normal childbirth--is a good source of potentially life-saving stem cells, called hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPCs), the type of stem cells also found in bone marrow and mobilized peripheral blood that give rise to various kinds of blood cells.
Transplants of these stem cells have saved the lives of roughly 20,000 Americans with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and several other illnesses in recent years. However, thousands of patients who might benefit from a transplant die every year waiting for a match. Although 22 public banks have been established in the United States to collect, store, and distribute donated cord blood containing these cells, these banks operate without any centralized coordination.
Recognizing the need for a national system for the collection, distribution, and use of cord blood, the U.S. Congress asked the Institute of Medicine to review the options for such a system and to make recommendations on the ideal structure of a national program.
The committee recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services should establish a new National Cord Blood Policy Board to set rules for the banking and use of lifesaving stem cells derived from donated umbilical cord blood. The department's Health Resources and Services Administration also should call for proposals to identify an organization that would manage daily operations of cord blood banking and allocation nationwide.