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Deal would send cord blood to Missouri

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The University of Minnesota is finalizing an agreement with a blood bank in Missouri that would give parents the option of donating their baby's umbilical cord blood, a source of lifesaving stem cells.

Even though the university has been a pioneering center for cord blood transplants and stem cell research, umbilical cord blood donations haven't been an option for years.

The American Red Cross used to bank cord blood from hospitals in Minneapolis, Coon Rapids and Mankato, but dropped that practice six years ago. Efforts to maintain cord blood banking in Minnesota fell apart when federal grants went to states with more diverse populations, because of the need for cord blood from ethnic and racial minorities.

A deal could be finalized Tuesday that would send cord blood collected at the university's Medical Center to the St. Louis Cord Blood Bank.

The absence of cord collection in Minnesota has hampered the pace of research at the university, where Dr. John Wagner performed the world's first cord blood transplant for leukemia in 1990.

"Fact is, this is the world's largest cord blood transplant program," said Dr. Jeff McCullough, a university pathologist and specialist in transfusion medicine. "To not even be collecting here for potential transplants? We should be able to do better than that."

Be The Match, the organization that matches cord blood to patients, is also based in Minneapolis.

Even though cord blood isn't collected in Minnesota, it hasn't hindered Minnesotans in receiving transplants from a national donor pool. Immune systems of cancer patients that are wiped away by chemotherapy and radiation are rebuilt with transplants of the regenerative stem cells in cord blood.

Phillip Englund received a stem cell transplant at the university's Amplatz Children's Hospital about three months ago, at the ideal juncture of his chemotherapy and radiation, because a cord blood unit was immediately available.

The 20-year-old from Grand Rapids, Minn., has learned that he's on track to go home after months in the Minneapolis hospital to fight leukemia, and that he can think about resuming college.

"It saved my life," Englund told the Star Tribune . "As weird as it is (to receive stem cells from umbilical cord blood), it was what I needed."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.