Lifewatch: Umbilical cord blood for diabetics

Reported by Claire Hosmann - email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

FLORIDA (WECT) - New parents have a choice when their child is born.  They can either bank or discard their newborn's umbilical cord blood.

Nearly 3 million children and adults in the United States live with type-one diabetes, a disease that will shorten their lifespan and put them at risk for kidney failure, blindness, and heart disease.

Now, the next therapy for diabetes could come from a baby's umbilical cord.

Having type-one diabetes doesn't stop 11-year-old Barrett Ross from playing the sports he loves.

He gives himself insulin and pricks his finger up to eight times a day.  He also carefully monitors everything he eats.

When Barrett was first diagnose, his parents enrolled him in a clinical trial testing umbilical cord infusions.

"I contacted them immediately through e-mail and told them that Barrett was diagnosed within the last 24 hours and that we had saved cord blood," said Christine Ross, Barrett's mom.

When parents choose to bank their newborn's umbilical cord blood, it can later be used for research.

At the University of Florida, 20 children were given a one-time infusion of their own cord blood.

Researchers say stem cells in the blood may slow the immune attack of diabetes so the pancreas destroys fewer "good" cells that produce insulin.

Some of the kids who had the infusion required less insulin and had better blood sugar control.

"It is very exciting. I take care of children with diabetes all the time. I know what it is that they go through," said Pediatric Endocrinologist Dr. Desmond Schatz.

Barrett used to take 30 units of insulin a day.  After the infusion, he needs less than 10 units, and after two years of diabetes, his body is still producing some insulin.

Researchers hope cord blood infusions could one day become part of a standard treatment plan for kids with type-one diabetes.

A decade ago, less than 1% of Americans banked cord blood, today that figure has grown to about 4%.

Banking a newborn's cord blood can cost up to $2,000 up front, and about $100 a year to store it.