New Breakthrough Program Offers Expectant Parents and Physicians a New Option to Save Newborn Stem Cells

Free Service Enables Advancement in Regenerative Stem Cell Therapy for Neurologically Impaired Newborns

SAN BRUNO, Calif., July 25 /PRNewswire/ -- A first-of-its kind service called the Newborn Possibilities Program may help provide treatment for the estimated 10,000 babies born in the United States each year with an increased risk of developing a neurological disability.

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Launched today by Cord Blood Registry® -- the world's largest family newborn stem cell bank -- the program is designed to provide autologous, or one's own, umbilical cord blood stem cells (also called newborn stem cells) for regenerative medical treatments. Children with a low Apgar score, who may have an increased risk of developing neurological disabilities, will be accepted into the program. An Apgar score is a routine assessment used at the time of birth to evaluate a newborn's physical condition. All expectant parents in the United States are eligible for this free program and are advised to enroll during the second trimester of pregnancy.

"It is impossible to predict outcomes in babies born at risk for neurological injury," said Dr. Robert Sears, M.D., noted author, pediatrician, and CBR medical advisor. "However, we can collect newborn stem cells from the umbilical cord immediately following the birth, and if a disability becomes evident, parents and doctors can use the cells to try and repair the damaged brain tissue. The hope is that we can lessen the severity of any potential disabilities and give these children a far better quality of life."

Cerebral palsy (CP) is one of the many conditions that the Newborn Possibilities Program was designed to address. CP, which has been associated with very low Apgar scores, is the most common childhood physical disability and is diagnosed in approximately 5,000 to 10,000 newborns each year in the United States. In addition, research conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development suggest that 17 percent of premature babies will develop cerebral palsy. According to the March of Dimes, about one in eight (12.5 percent) live births were premature in 2004 (about 508,000 infants). There currently is no approved treatment for cerebral palsy; however, several pediatric studies involving stem cells are underway since treatment during the first few years of life appears to offer the best opportunity for improvement.

"If you look at the consequences of significant perinatal injury, you run into seizures, cerebral palsy, mental retardation, and a lot of other problems that are difficult to deal with," said Dr. James Baumgartner, associate professor of neurosurgery at the University of Texas Medical School and University of Texas Health Sciences Center. "The preliminary data suggests that you probably can do well for these kids with cord blood stem cell treatment."

The Potential of Newborn Stem Cells

Newborn stem cells represent a potentially powerful resource for regenerating brain cells, as well as a number of other cell types in the human body. While all stem cells work similarly -- by "regenerating" healthy cells to replace diseased ones -- stems cells derived from a newborn's own umbilical cord blood provide certain medical advantages, and collection poses no risk to the infant or the mother. Already proven to regenerate blood and immune cells, newborn stem cells have been used for almost 20 years as a treatment for many cancers and blood disorders, including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and aplastic anemia. To date, cord blood stem cells have been used in more than 6,000 transplants worldwide.

"There currently is no reparative therapy for traumatic brain injury," said Dr. James Baumgartner. "When we have something that is the first hope on the horizon, that's an immense step in the right direction because it potentially changes the paradigm on how we think about treating one of the biggest causes of morbidity for children. Suddenly, we have an option when before, we had nothing."

About the Newborn Possibilities Program

The Newborn Possibilities Program provides free processing and storage of newborn stem cells for children born with a low Apgar score, less than or equal to six at ten minutes. The Apgar score is a routine assessment used worldwide as a measure of a newborn's immediate physical condition and a very low score is associated with an increased risk of neurological disability.(1)

Parents enrolling in the Newborn Possibilities Program incur no cost for the storage of the newborn's stem cells for the first four years, a critical stage during which physicians are typically able to determine if a toddler has a neurological deficit that may be improved with stem cell therapy. Parents wanting to know more about this service or who wish to enroll must do so before childbirth by visiting or by calling 1-888-CORD-BLOOD.

"The cost of banking these powerful stem cells shouldn't be a deciding factor in this circumstance," said Thomas Moore, CEO of Cord Blood Registry. "We created the Newborn Possibilities Program because treatments for children with brain damage are very limited. By making autologous newborn stem cells accessible, many of these children will now have new treatment options that they never had before. Expectant parents need to know that the enrollment process is simple, there is no cost, and these cells could make a tremendous difference over the lifetime of the newborn."

About Cord Blood Registry's Existing Programs

In addition to the Newborn Possibilities Program, Cord Blood Registry operates a specialized storage program for families currently facing illness. CBR's Designated Transplant Program provides free cord blood processing and storage to families who have a relative with a disease treatable with stem cells. CBR has helped more than 1,000 families store related stem cells through its Designated Transplant Program since 1996. CBR is also the world's largest provider of Family Cord Blood Banking, which enables expectant parents to arrange for their newborn's stem cells to be preserved exclusively for use by their family in medical treatments.

"You can never predict what's going to happen," said Cathy Pell, mother of Abby Pell, a 22-month old diagnosed with an anoxic brain injury. "Our fifth child had a complication that couldn't be detected or prevented prior to birth, but because we stored her cord blood, we were able to provide our daughter with the option of stem cell therapy. Before, she wasn't tracking objects with her eyes or even sitting up, and now she is. We have hope."

About Cord Blood Registry

Cord Blood Registry (CBR)® is a registered trademark of Cbr Systems, Inc., the largest newborn stem cell processing and cryopreservation service for familial use in transplantation and regenerative medicine. Accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks, CBR preserves more than 400,000 newborn stem cell units from over 130,000 families throughout the world. CBR has released more than 40 client cord blood samples for use in transplant and regenerative medicine cases-more than any other family cord blood bank. The company's research and development is focused on advancing the collection, processing, and storage methods to optimize quality and cell yield. Additionally, CBR facilitates collection of donated research samples, available for the nearly 200 research programs worldwide that are focused on stem cell expansion and cell-based therapies.

1) Thorngren-Jerneck K, Herbst A. "Low 5-minute Apgar Score: A Population-Based Register Study Of 1 Million Term Births." Obstet Gynecol. 2001;98:65-70.

Source: Cord Blood Registr

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