UI women’s health tissue bank becoming more widely used


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Research into umbilical-cord blood is more important than ever.

With scientists able to tell whether a disease is passed from mother to baby, the blood can be crucial in determining the health of women and newborns.

And even though such centers as the University of Iowa Women’s Health Tissue Repository are becoming more widely used, officials said, the topic has yet to catch researchers’ attention as much as others.

“Pregnancy affects everybody because everybody is born, but it is incredibly understudied,” said Donna Santillan, a research assistant professor in maternal-fetal medicine in the UI Obstetrics and Gynecology Department.

Santillan’s husband, Mark Santillan, an associate in the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department, said doctors are continually looking for answers to complications associated with pregnancy.

“We can better the outcome, but we can’t stop it,” he said about pregnancy-related disease. “It’s been clear to me that there really isn’t clear enough data.”

In 2009, when the Santillans took over the tissue repository, they added two tissue banks.

Now, researchers are recruiting women in the early stages of pregnancy to participate in donating tissue when they come in for standard screenings. Then, after the mothers who give consent have their child, the cord blood, maternal blood, and placenta are taken for research.

“The women who are part of our bank are really making an investment,” Mark Santillan said. “It’s women helping women.”

Donna Santillan said researching the early stages of a pregnancy-related disease allows scientists to follow its path and find target areas for designing necessary drugs.

Nationally, centers are gaining more experience in cord blood research and use.

The University of Arizona Cord Blood Bank has more than 20 years of experience serving more than 450,000 clients.

Researchers from the Tuscon, Ariz., university pursue the uses of stem cells from cord blood to create regenerative medicine therapies and have treated kids with diseases like leukemia.

“There are a lot of other things you can do with cord blood that you can’t do with other [types of blood],” David Harris, a University of Arizona immunobiology professor.

For Mark Santillan, his work is an attempt for the university to expand on the issues associated with pregnancy.

“To be able to make an impact in medicine, it takes someone to do the clinical work as well as the research,” he said. “Having the ability to have all of the clinical data and biosamples all in one bank is one step in that direction.”

And overall, Donna Santillan said, she believes the work is about improving outcomes for mothers and babies.

“We want moms and their children to be healthy,” she said.

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