GenCure cord blood program saves lives around the world

November 15, 2018

Every time a cord blood unit for a patient leaves the Texas Cord Blood Bank, it reinforces the lifesaving mission of the GenCure program.

“What’s moving to me every time we send out a unit is the thought of the recipient,” said Rogelio Zamilpa, senior director of apheresis and cord blood in GenCure. “Not by name, of course, but knowing it could be going to help, for example, a 2-month-old baby that has leukemia. That’s pretty powerful.”

TCBB was established by the Texas legislature in 2001 to collect umbilical cord blood, which can help patients, usually children, suffering from potentially fatal blood conditions.

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Since 2005, the bank has worked with hospitals statewide to collect and store thousands of units for transplant. Families who decide to donate their baby’s cord blood are contributing to the mission of saving lives globally through cord blood therapies, Zamilpa said.

GenCure and the TCBB have sent units across the state and the country, from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to the Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, California, as well as to Chile, Belgium, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, France and Australia.

TCBB is one of 25 cord blood banks accredited by the AABB, one of 13 public banks that are part of the National Cord Blood Inventory, and the only designated public cord blood bank for Texas.

“In the past, cord blood was mostly discarded after the baby was delivered,” said Zamilpa, who has led the program for more than two years. “We’re now turning a large part of what we collect into lifesaving therapies for people with fatal blood and immune disorders.”

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Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells that give rise to blood and immune system. It is collected in a quick, painless procedure following a routine birth.

It is used as an alternative to bone marrow stem cells and peripheral blood stem cells for treatment of patients diagnosed with blood disorders, including leukemia and lymphoma.

TCBB partners with The National Marrow Donor Program’s Be The Match to increase the number of cord blood to the national registry and its distribution to transplant centers. More than 12,000 units from TCBB are listed on the registry, and 472 have been sent for transplant.

“One thing that’s unique to us is the ethnic groups in our inventory,” Zamilpa said. “Hispanic is the largest representative ethnic background in our inventory. When I go to national conferences, I hear that the units used the most are Caucasian. That’s not true for our cord blood bank. It’s largely Hispanic.”

Donated cord blood that does not go into the registry – mainly because the unit is too small to be used for a patient – is used for research. More than 2,000 units from TCBB have been sent for research.

“Umbilical cord blood and its stem cells have a proven value to medicine, with the promise of cures and treatments for more and more diseases every day,” said Pamela Brown Baer, vice president of operations for GenCure. “We’re proud to be contributing to both lifesaving therapies and important research.”

“With the precious gift of cord blood, there is great potential to improve or save many lives.”

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Since 2016, TCBB has implemented a number of changes in processes and equipment that will improve the quality of inventory through high-quality units. The team has also identified key researchers in the field.

In addition, the perinatal or birth tissue collection (placenta and umbilical cord) program has grown, supporting the launch of research and development applications.

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TCBB was established with a $1 million grant from the state of Texas, and an additional $3.5 million public-private match was set up later that led to further funding and expansion of the TCBB.

The Blood & Tissue Center Foundation is a philanthropic group that has raised funds for the cord blood bank almost since its inception. Through the Ruskin C. Norman Founders’ Circle, generous members have contributed more than $250,000 to help collect, process and store cord blood in order to save lives like Valentina, who received a lifesaving cord blood transplant from TCBB.