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Last year about 1,000 brand-new babies in the Chicago area were part of something bigger than themselves. By their parents' consent and willingness to make a couple of phone calls, these infants donated blood from their just-snipped and soon-to-be-discarded umbilical cords.
That 2 to 4 ounces of "cord blood" contains stem cells that can be preserved by freezing. The cells, not to be confused with the hotly debated embryonic stem cells, can be used if the tissue type matches a patient who needs a stem-cell transplant.
Typically the patients are young kids with leukemia, other cancers requiring a transplant or a genetic disease such as sickle cell anemia. They turn to cord-bank donors because they do not have a stem-cell match among their siblings or don't have …