Gilbert's new stem-cell center gets first cord-blood donation

by Parker Leavitt – Oct. 4, 2010
Published by The Arizona Republic

The first pouch of precious, potentially lifesaving stem cells found its way into a cryogenic freezer in an inconspicuous research center in Gilbert last month.

Brigid Wilson, born Sept. 2 at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, became the first umbilical-cord-blood donor for the new Celebration Stem Cell Centre, which has its grand opening Thursday.

It is the Valley’s first cord-blood bank and the only one in Arizona to offer free public donation services. Donated cord blood can be processed for adult stem cells and put onto a national transplant registry.

The Wilson family, including Brigid’s parents Dave and Deidre, of Phoenix, were excited to advance what they believe is a promising field of science.

Cord-blood stem cells, drawn from a newborn’s umbilical cord, have the potential to treat serious diseases such as cerebral palsy, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and strokes.

“This is an area of science and medicine that has shown good potential,” said Deidre, 35,a general practice physician. “I think people can do great good with something that’s so simple and doesn’t involve harm to anyone.”

As the new blood bank’s first donor family, the Wilsons said they hope to encourage more families to consider cord-blood banking or donation.

“Cord blood normally just goes to waste, so there’s all that potential out there that families could be giving to a scientific effort,” Deidre said.

Unlike embryonic stem cells, cord-blood research has not stirred controversy and is supported by conservative political groups including the Family Research Council.

For the Wilsons, who are Catholic, it’s an important difference.

“We felt that embryonic stem cells are derived from the destruction of human embryos, whereas adult stem cells can come from all the different body tissues as well as the cord blood,” Deidre said.

Dr. Nabil Dib, head of the Cardiovascular Research Center at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center, has been using adult stem cells in clinical trials for people with heart failure and last year began treating heart-attack victims.

During treatment, doctors transplant the stem cells into a patient’s heart via a catheter, without surgery. About a dozen stem cells are applied into and around the damaged heart tissue. The stem cells can then develop into heart cells and repair damaged tissue.

Dib is now also working with the Celebration Stem Cell Centre as medical director.

Expecting parents interested in private banking or public donation are given an extraction kit with instructions and tools for the obstetrician. Immediately after childbirth, a nurse draws blood from the umbilical cord, and a courier from the center picks it up for processing.

“It’s painless,” Deidre said. “It doesn’t affect the baby, and it doesn’t affect the mother at all.”

As enthusiastic as the Wilsons were about donating, their baby Brigid was apparently in an even greater rush to make her first contribution to society.

After a long pregnancy that went past her due date, Deidre went to St. Joseph’s to be induced. She thought it would be a long, arduous labor.

So the doctor wasn’t quite ready when Brigid suddenly “bungeed” into the world, her mother said.

“I stood up thinking I had a while to go,” Deidre said. “When you’re having hard contractions you’re not exactly communicating, concentrating.”

When she stood up, baby Brigid made a surprising, hasty exit, landing on the ground. She was unhurt, and the nurse was able to extract the cord blood that would become the new center’s first donation.

“It’s something that we think is very promising,” said Dave, 50. “Who knows, maybe someday we’ll need it ourselves.”

The Celebration Stem Cell Centre was founded and personally financed by Bill and Sherry Lund, of Paradise Valley. The Lunds developed the area around Mercy Gilbert and are active in local philanthropic efforts.

A mother interested in banking her baby’s cord blood should contact the center by the 34th week of her pregnancy, Sherry said.

After a series of screening tests, the woman would receive a box with all the components a nurse or doctor needs to draw the baby’s cord blood immediately after birth. That blood sample must then be processed within 48 hours. Lab technicians will test the sample to determine the number of viable stem cells, which then will be frozen for future use.

If someone wants to preserve their baby’s stem cells for their own use in the future, private banking costs $1,975 for processing and the first year of storage, followed by a $125 fee each additional year. Donations that end on a national registry can be made at no cost.

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