NEWS | March 17, 2014

Statewide public cord blood collection program begins


Mothers of newborns can now donate their babies’ umbilical cord blood at UC Davis Medical Center and other hospitals throughout the state as part of California’s first comprehensive public system of collecting cord blood for lifesaving transplantations and medical research.

Mothers of newborns can now donate their babies' umbilical cord blood at UC Davis Medical Center and other hospitals throughout the state. Mothers of newborns can now donate their babies' umbilical cord blood at UC Davis Medical Center and other hospitals throughout the state.

“This program enables new mothers to be both life-givers and lifesavers,” said Laurel Finta, medical director for Maternity Services at UC Davis Medical Center. “Parents now have the opportunity to donate to a publicly funded cord blood collection program that costs them nothing and can provide benefits to so many others.”

Created by state legislation in 2010, California’s Umbilical Cord Blood Collection Program (UCBCP) is a unique, state-funded system designed to broaden the diversity of umbilical cord blood units for public banking and use in unrelated transplants as well as provide a source of high-quality cord blood units for qualified researchers. UC Davis Health System administers the program, which is funded by a $2 dollar fee on birth certificate copies.

“The main goal of this program is to expand the diversity of publicly available cord blood by making it easy and convenient for new mothers to donate,” said Suzanne Pontow, co-director of the program and a scientist at the UC Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures in Sacramento. “Only a tiny fraction of cord blood is collected and preserved right now, so this is the beginning of an important effort to enable parents around the state to voluntarily and easily donate cord blood at no cost.”

Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born. It is an important alternative to bone marrow for transplantation because it contains all the natural elements of blood and is rich in blood-forming stem cells. It also does not require as close a match between the donor and recipient as bone marrow. Cord blood is used to treat a variety of diseases, ranging from sickle cell anemia to cancers of the blood, such as leukemia and lymphoma. Researchers say umbilical cord blood also holds promise as an important source of stem cells that could be used for potential medical therapies and treatments.

Typically, only a small number of parents choose to save cord blood when their children are born. Private cord blood banks often charge several thousand dollars for their collection services, plus a yearly storage fee. Those stored cord blood units are available only to the donor families.

Expanding the nation’s cord blood registry is particularly important for ethnic minorities. Currently, African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians face extra challenges to finding a cord blood match because their populations are individually smaller and have made fewer donations into the public-banked system. In general, minorities are more likely to find a suitable match from donors within their own ethnic groups, which is important because, unlike bone marrow transplantation, a partial cord blood match can be perfectly acceptable and viable as a life-saving transplant resource.

Cord blood units collected at UC Davis Medical Center are sent to the San Diego Blood Bank, where they are screened for genetic characterization and infectious disease before being stored and entered into the National Registry. Other hospitals participating in the new collection program are located in the Bay Area and Southern California:

  • White Memorial Medical Center, Los Angeles
  • Kaiser Permanente, Los Angeles Medical Center
  • Memorial Care Center for Women at Miller Children’s Hospital, Long Beach
  • Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, San Diego
  • Scripps Mercy Hospital, San Diego
  • Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford, Palo Alto

To expand the collection program’s reach, plans call for certifying additional hospitals and collection specialists in the Central Valley, Bay Area and Southern California in the coming year.  The collection team is encouraging donations from patients and hospitals, educating the public about the value of cord blood, and training health professionals on how to collect cord blood to ensure quality control for each donated unit.

“With California’s highly diverse population, having a public collection program will truly enhance our nation’s supply of cord blood,” said Jon Walker, who serves as co-director of the project. “For far too long, cord blood has been considered medical waste. We’re creating the ultimate recycling project that can help save lives.”

Pregnant women interested in donating their cord blood can call toll free at 844-734-CORD (2673) or email for more information. Additional information about the collection program can be found at

About UC Davis Health System

UC Davis Health System is advancing the health of patients everywhere by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 645-bed acute-care teaching hospital, an 800-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. For more information, visit