Donated umbilical cords show 'exciting' results in treating Covid patients

A study using tissue taken from donated umbilical cord has shown promising results. Credit: PA

A blood cancer charity says pregnant women could play an exciting part in the future treatment of coronavirus patients.

Anthony Nolan collect umbilical cords and placentas from willing donors across five hospitals in the UK.

Cord blood is rich in stem cells, so are used for a potentially lifesaving stem cell transplant for people with conditions such as leukaemia.

Unlike adult blood donors, cord blood does not have to be an exact match.

Cord blood is a rich, unique material. If it's not collected, it's ultimately going to go in the bin, so it's a fantastic opportunity to do something really quite amazing

Daniel Gibson, Director of Cell and Gene Therapy Services, Anthony Nolan
Umbilical cord storage bank facility PA Credit: PA

The charity has carried on with collections throughout the pandemic, and now a new clinical trial suggests that donated cells collected from the umbilical cord have proved effective in treating Covid patients.

Daniel Gibson, the director of cell and gene therapy services at the charity, explains "There's a subset of cells that can be collected from the cord tissue, as opposed to the cord blood itself, and these stem cells have the ability to regulate the immune system.

"And theres been a number of clinical trials that have been able to use this to treats ARDS, which is the respiratory disease caused by the Covid 19 infection."

90%

of Covid deaths are the result of ARDS

It's very early days, so we need to work through the process, with the people developing these fantastic therapies, to make sure the material can be available for patients when they need it, but it is very exciting.

Daniel Gibson, Director of Cell and Gene Therapy Services, Anthony Nolan
When Elsie was born, her parents decided to donate potentially life-saving cord blood.

Donna Rooney gave birth in St Mary's Hospital in Manchester back in August, and says donating her umbilical cord after birth was "the easiest decision I've ever had to make".

She added "I've seen first had what donated cord blood can actually do for families - and I know some who have been directly affected by Covid, so hearing that Elsie's stem cells could help some Covid patients is really nice to hear."

Elsie's mum and dad can't wait to tell her about her donation when she's older.

It's just amazing really what you can do for somebody, something so small that you probably didn't even know about before going into hospital, can just completely change someone's life

Donna Rooney, cord blood donor

CAN I DONATE MY UMBILICAL CORD?

If you’re planning to give birth at one of the five following hospitals, you can register your interest with Anthony Nolan:  

  • King's College Hospital (London)

  • Saint Mary's Hospital, Oxford Road (Manchester)Saint Mary's Hospital, Wythenshawe (Manchester)Leicester Royal InfirmaryLeicester General Hospital

The NHS also runs collection sites, though some are not running due to the pandemic.


WHAT DOES IT INVOLVE?

Donna says donating didn't interfere with her birth plan at all - you have to go through a consent form similar to one used for those donating blood.

Once your baby has been safely born, the umbilical cord and placenta to a separate room by medics to extract the blood.

It's then frozen in a cord bank until it’s needed.