Oklahoma Blood Institute officially launched the state’s public umbilical cord center Wednesday. It is one of only 24 such centers worldwide. Until now, umbilical cord blood that can save lives has been thrown away after births across Oklahoma. Without a local, public umbilical cord blood bank, most Oklahoma mothers had no option to donate it. Now, mothers of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, delivering at OU Medical Center can turn their joyous event into a life-saving one for those battling leukemia and other blood disorders with little hope. Other hospitals will be enlisted to partner in the future.

Thousands of people need stem cell transplants because a disease is present in their own cells (such as leukemia or a genetic disorder). Seven out of 10 of these people do not find a matching donor in their families. Presently, many can’t even find matches from those in the national registry. Adding more stem cells from cord blood of those with diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds increases the likelihood that more patients will find a match. As more treatment successes are found, stem cells from umbilical cord blood may even revolutionize care for life-threatening diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Particularly for minority populations most prevalent in Oklahoma, hope is slim for matches of stem cells. Those of Native American heritage and other minorities are poorly represented within national registries.

OBI clinical staff informs mothers delivering at OU Medical Center with underserved ethnic descent of the opportunity to donate. It is free to the parents, and the donation process is simple and painless. After delivery and separation of the cord from the baby, the mother’s physician uses a syringe to collect blood from the umbilical cord. Donation doesn’t change the delivery process and is only performed in an uncomplicated delivery with a healthy mother and baby.

According to Oklahoma Blood Institute, after initial processes for hospital and OBI collaboration are perfected, opportunities for partnership will expand to other state hospitals that have desired patient diversity and administrators and physicians with interest.

“As a national leader in transfusion medicine, partner with Native American tribes and other minority groups and an affiliate of the National Marrow Donor Program, Oklahoma Blood Institute is well positioned to make sure diverse needs are better met,” said John Armitage, M.D., CEO and President of OBI. “Ours is the only organization in Oklahoma where required blood processing and testing technology and expertise exists.”

Oklahoma Blood Institute is completing the final phase of rigorous FDA licensure requirements for the cord blood facility. A major portion of OBI’s original headquarters at1001 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, has been renovated to accommodate offices, laboratory and cryogenic storage tanks for the cord blood program. The next closest public umbilical cord bank is in Houston, TX.

OBI’s cord blood program is being established thanks to generous contributions from several Oklahoma foundations and scores of individuals, seeking to enhance the standard of the state’s health care, but additional support from benefactors is still being sought. Oklahoma Blood Institute is the ninth largest independent, nonprofit blood center in the United States. For more information about its Cord Blood Center, visit obi.org or call 405-278-3130.