Smiles spread across the room as John Armitage, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Blood Institute, announced the launch of the only umbilical cord blood bank in Oklahoma and the 25th in the world.
“This is a continuation of work we've been doing. Research has been taking place for many years. But this is a big deal and it's very exciting,” Armitage said during the Wednesday announcement.
After more than three decades of collecting blood for people in need of transfusions, Armitage said, collecting umbilical cord blood is the next step for OBI.
Unlike embryonic stem cell research, which has been controversial and outlawed in Oklahoma because it involves destruction of human embryos, umbilical cord research has been taking place for years and uses umbilical cords naturally released from a woman's body after delivery of a baby.
Linda Dixon, OBI cord blood manager, who has 25 years of experience as a labor and delivery nurse, said the collection of umbilical cord blood is simple and painless.
After delivery and separation of the umbilical cord from the baby, the mother's physician or nurse will use a syringe to collect blood from the cord. Donation won't change the delivery process and will only be performed in an uncomplicated delivery with a healthy mother and baby after the mother has blood testing and gives her written consent, Dixon said.
“The blood from the umbilical cord is rich in stem cells. But it's blood that's usually discarded as waste after delivery,” Dixon said.
The blood can be used to treat more than 75 diseases, including leukemia, lymphoma, anemia, diabetes, and heart and organ failure.
“We're a long way away from creating a new liver,” Armitage said. “But we're on the cutting edge of therapy. We're reprogramming what cells can do.”
Collected umbilical cord blood will go to an OBI lab where the stem cells will be extracted. The blood will be stored until a patient with a matching blood type is found, Armitage said.
“These cells are at the basic level of repair,” Armitage said. “They haven't been exposed; they've been preserved so when they are placed in a host body, they act as if it's their own. They go to work helping to make tissue strong again.”