This past week saw the launch of the first public cord blood program in Maryland. The free program was launched October 11, 2010, at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore in partnership with Community Blood Services of New Jersey. Women giving birth at Mercy will be given the option of donating their babies' umbilical-cord blood to be listed on the National Marrow Donor Program registry for use by patients in need of life-saving transplants.

This new collaboration is the culmination of a years research and planning by the Maryland Catholic Conference to identify partnerships between Maryland hospitals and blood banks across the United States. St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore will be joining the partnership soon and additional Catholic hospitals in Maryland may form other partnerships in the near future.

Umbilical cord blood is rich in non-controversial adult stem cells that can be used to successfully treat dozens of diseases, including sickle cell anemia. Thomas R. Mullen, Mercy's president and CEO, said there are tens of thousands of people around the world who need stem-cell transplants. One of the major goals of Mercy's involvement in the partnership is to increase the number of cord blood donors who are African-American and who are underrepresented in the donor population. That will help people like Joseph Davis, Jr.

Cord blood donation has already helped little Mason Shaffer. Mason and his parents were on hand to celebrate the opening of the cord blood bank at Mercy Medical Center. Mason had been diagnosed with a severe bone disease, osteopetrosis. His life was saved through a transplant of adult stem cells obtained from umbilical-cord blood donated to a public collecting bank. His mother, Sarah Shaffer, says "He's cured. He's completely normal. For me, it's exhilarating." Organizers of the new cord blood bank believe it has the potential to save the lives of many children and adults like Mason.

Adult stem cell research is far ahead of embryonic stem cells. With over 50,000 adult stem cell transplants each year taking place around the globe, we need to focus on the patients first. Cord blood banks like the new one in Maryland are one of the answers.