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New cord blood bank to open in Syracuse

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)

Construction has started in Syracuse on the $15 million Upstate Cord Blood Bank.  It will be the second public cord blood bank in New York state. The blood drawn from umbilical cords after childbirth is used to treat children with dozens of diseases like cancer and sickle cell anemia.

Greg Vassalo is urging new parents to donate their child's umbilical cord blood to save a life.

"Because an anonymous family donated their baby's umbilical cord, instead of throwing it out, Luka has been given a second chance at life and has been cancer free for almost four years," Vassalo said.

That's what happened after his son, Luka, was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of leukemia. His father says cord blood cured him of the disease. Vassalo's son got blood from a Long Island blood bank, but soon it will be collected, processed and stored in a new Upstate Cord Blood Bank at the Upstate Community campus in Syracuse.

Upstate Pathologist Robert Corona says it is a painless procedure.

"After the baby is delivered and the cord is clamped, before the placenta is delivered, it's like starting an I.V. in the umbilical vein," Corona said. "You draw the blood into a bag, it gets tested for diseases and typed, and it can be stored for several years."

Geralyn Saya's son Jared survived cancer after a cord blood transfusion, and she hopes new parents will consider donating this lifesaving blood.

"Somebody saved my son's life that I don't know.  And I wish I could thank her and I can't," Saya said. "That's why I want to thank every mother out there who donates an umbilical cord. You're going to save someone's life."

The cord blood will be also used for research at University Hospital.  There are a number of research projects currently underway there that use cord blood.

Umbilical cord blood is blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after childbirth. It is a rich source of hematopoietic stem cells that have the potential of being used in the treatment of dozens of diseases, like cancer and sickle cell.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.