Fri, Aug 22, 2003 - Page 4 News List

Specialized blood bank could help fight disease

RARE Taiwan is now one of the few places in the world with a specialized facility to store blood taken from the umbilical cords of new-born babies

By Joy Su  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Koo Foundation's Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center and the National Women's League of the ROC announced yesterday that they had established a new blood bank that will store blood taken from the umbilical cords of newborn babies. The blood can then be used to treat a number of diseases, including leukemia.

The Soong Mayling Foundation's Cord Blood Bank is one of only two such blood banks outside the US to be accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks.

"More technological advancements will become possible because of this cord blood bank, and all of Taiwan is now stepping into a new technological era," said Andrew Huang (黃達夫), president and CEO of the Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center.

K.J. Kao (高國彰), chief of medical research and pathology at the cancer center, said that because it is easier to find a donor match within one's own ethnic group, the association's acceptance of cord blood units from Taiwan will also benefit Asians living abroad.

According to the head of the cord blood bank, Bowen Chen (陳博文), blood is extracted from a baby's umbilical cord immediately after birth and stem cells from the blood are stored and later used to treat genetic and blood diseases.

The Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center's cord blood bank has already sent 84 units of blood to various hospitals in Taiwan.

"In Taiwan, there are about 350 to 400 cases of childhood leukemia. About 30 percent to 40 percent of these cases will be unable to find a matching bone-marrow donor. The cord blood can be used to make bone marrow transplantation possible for these patients," Chen said.

The Sun Yat-sen Cancer Center cord blood bank has collected 1,790 units of cord blood, but there are still a number of financing problems.

Huang said that the cord blood bank would absorb the costs of processing and storing cord blood but estimated the cost of extracting the blood at between NT$1 million and NT$2 million.

Huang said that if the National Health Insurance system could cover the cost of the procedure it could become a much more common procedure.

Doctors Huang and Kao said that patients of Hakka ethnicity have a particularly difficult time finding matching donors.

Furthermore, while many opt to store their cord blood in case of a personal or family emergency, the doctors stressed the need to maintain a public cord blood bank that is available to all.

The new cord blood bank was created using NT$200 million donated by the National Women's League. It is one of only 20 worldwide. The US has 18 and Brazil one.

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