Did you know that by agreeing to donate the blood from you baby’s umbilical cord after he or she is born could actually help save someone else’s life? In Singapore that is a reality, thanks to the Singapore Cord Blood Bank.
The Importance of Cord Blood
For many years, in hospitals all over the world when the umbilical cord was cut after a baby’s birth the associated blood was simply disposed of as a routine part of helping Mum and new baby clean up after the birthing process was over. What was not realized was that that very small amount of blood that was considered waste actually had the power to help save lives.
It is now known, thanks to many years of research, that umbilical cord blood is a very rich source of stem cells. Stem cells are a very special type of human cell as they have the ability to grow into all kinds of different cells and can serve as an internal repair system in the human body. The stem cells contained in umbilical cord blood are called haematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and are responsible for the constant renewal of blood cells, able to help the body create billions of new blood cells.
This ability can be lifesaving for people who are suffering from a blood disorder, especially a blood cancer. People suffering from potentially fatal diseases like eukaemia, thalassemia, sickle cell anemia and some immune system disorders have been helped by by the precious cord blood donated by Singaporean Mums, Dads and of course babies over the last seven years since the Singapore Cord Blood Bank was opened by Minister of Health, Mr. Khaw Boon Wan in 2005.
The Work of The Singapore Cord Blood Bank
The Singapore Cord Blood Bank was established to provide a unique resource for doctors who are looking for the stem cells needed to help Singaporean patients. Previously if no matching donor could be found within a person’s family the alternative was to look to a foreign blood bank for help but they were primarily stocked with donations from people of Caucasian decent and finding a match suitable for people from Singapore and its diverse ethnic background was very hard. The SCBB can fulfill this need.
When the SCCB first opened in 2005 three hospital in Singapore participated in the program – KK Women’s & Children’s Hospital (KKH), National University Hospital (NUH) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Over the years private hospitals joined in the effort as well and now Gleneagles Hospital (GEH), Mount Alvernia Hospital (MAH), Mount Elizabeth Hospital (MEH), Raffles Hospital (RH), Parkway East Hospital (PEH) and Thomson Medical Centre (TMC) all participate as well and the generosity of Singapore’s parents, by agreeing to donate their newborn’s cord blood has made the SCBB the fastest growing centre of its kind in the world!
What Cord Blood Donation Means
In Singapore between 40 and 60% of the patients who could possibly be helped by a HSC transplant are unable to be helped by family members willing to donate bone marrow – the traditional source of HSC – because the very important genetic natch just cannot be made or there is no potential donor available and their ethnic background means that foreign centers can be of no help either. The blood stored by the SCBB can often help patients when no other source can.
The Cord Blood Donation Process
If a couple expecting a baby decide that they would like to help others by donating their baby’s cord blood the first step towards doing so is to speak to their OB Gyn, especially since that will actually be the person responsible for ordering the collection of the blood after baby is born.
When a Mum to Be is about 28 weeks pregnant an appointment for pre screening will be arranged for her and a few simple blood tests are carried out then, after Baby is born the cord blood will be collected, preserved and then sent to SCCB for storage. Mum and Baby do not have to go through any additional procedures.
The Cord Blood Transplant Process
Haematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT), more commonly known as Blood Stem Cell Transplantation, is the process by which the blood stem cells from the cord blood are transfused into the body of a sick person, usually after they have undergone chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy to treat their disease. Both chemotherapy and radiation can be very effective in helping destroy cancer cells but they also destroy stem cells. The donated new stem cells from the cord blood migrate to the patient’s own bone marrow after the are injected and begin to regenerate into the specific kinds of cells the body needs to help create a new and healthy immune system and blood cells for the patient.
Preparing for the arrival of a new baby, and pregnancy in general, is a very busy time for Mums and Dads to be and adding yet another thing to do to the list can seem a little bit much. However by donating something that would be thrown away anyway you and your baby could end up saving someone’s life one day, something that another Mum and Dad will be grateful for forever!