Stem cells have been highly controversial in American media for a number of years, with some practices even deemed illegal by the pro-life Bush Administration.
Dr. Mastrogiannis, the director of Maternal Fetal Medicine and director of Labor and Delivery in Temple University Hospital, said none of that controversy should apply to the idea of cord blood donations, which uses the stem-cell rich blood from umbilical cords that would otherwise be discarded after a birth.
With Temple University Hospital’s recent addition of a Public Cord Blood program within the Women and Infant’s Division, announced on April 11, the university has advanced the medicinal opportunities available to those in need of life-saving transplants. The new program is a chapter of the Mason Shaffer Foundation and Community Blood Services, a nonprofit organization from New Jersey.
“We were contacted by the Mason Shaffer Foundation who is part of a public blood bank donation program,” Mastrogiannis said. “They wanted to diversify the population who gives core blood to those who are [of] African American and Hispanic origins.”
The charity has an existing cord blood donation program in New Jersey, but Temple’s is the organization’s first in Philadelphia.
“The public core donor system is like a blood bank,” Mastrogiannis said. “There’s no risk to the mother. There is no risk to the baby. The only exception is having an infection, and the banks test everything.”
Mastrogiannis said the new program has the potential to save many lives.
When studies were first conducted in the 80s, researchers found large amounts of stem cells in the blood of umbilical cords. The first baby to receive treatment in 1988 is still alive today.
The purely protein based stem cells can differentiate into many other forms. This is what makes them so beneficial and successful at curing diseases. The only thing holding doctors across the globe back, is finding the right match, which is what staff at Temple Hospital hope to combat.
“We would like to be a blood bank that represents a collective of our community,” said Mastrogiannis. “So eventually, for the people in the community Temple serves, we hopefully can treat and cure some who need bone marrow transplants, or those that have leukemia, cellular glaucoma, cancer or genetic problems as well. That is our goal.”
Blood type must match between donor and patients. Studies by Be the Match show that almost a quarter of African Americans and 17 percent of Hispanics cannot find appropriate matches.
“I hope [cord blood donations are] done by everyone, because there is no use for [umbilical cord] blood and it’s otherwise thrown out,” Mastrogiannis said.
Several students said they have similar views of the new program as Mastrogiannis.
Ray Moussa, a senior biology major, said he thinks more hospitals should create similar programs in order to fight diseases like cancer.
“I don’t see a negative side to it,” Moussa said. “It’s not hurting the baby, it’s not hurting anyone.”
Tim Conroy, a junior, film and media arts major, agreed with Moussa’s stance that no one is hurt in the process, since “they don’t have to use the fetuses, they just use the umbilical cord.” Whether a person is pro-life or pro-choice, he said, this program is one they should support regardless.
Sam Beecher, a sophomore physics major, called Temple “progressive” for adopting the program, and said students should feel lucky to attend a university taking on such health initiatives. He said while he usually supports stem cell research, the methods sometimes “teeter on the unethical,” but he said the cord blood program avoids any aspects that might be considered negative because of religious convictions.
“I think a lot of people from other hospitals are going to use ours for that research especially that we’re the only one who is doing it in Philadelphia,” Beecher said.
Toby Forstater and Jane Babian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org