March 14, 2008

Legislature to vote on umbilical cord blood bank proposal

By Brigid Curtis Ayer

Cancer patients and people faced with a debilitating disease may have an enhanced source of adult stem cells for transplant therapy if legislation to create a public umbilical cord blood bank clears the Indiana General Assembly this year.

The cord blood bank proposal, House Bill 1172, authored by Rep. Peggy Welch (D-Bloomington), would require the Family and Social Service Administration (FSSA) to: 1) create a governmental nonprofit corporation to establish and operate an umbilical cord blood bank; 2) establish an umbilical cord blood donation initiative; and 3) promote public awareness concerning the medical benefits of umbilical cord blood. The Indiana Catholic Conference supports the bill.

Many believe stem cells only come from embryos, but Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, a leading national stem cell expert, told Indiana legislators in 2005 at a luncheon hosted by the Indiana Catholic Conference that stem cells can be taken from umbilical cords, the placenta, amniotic fluid, adult tissues and organs such as bone marrow, fat from liposuction, regions of the nose and even cadavers up to 20 hours after death.

There are four categories of stem cells: 1) embryonic stem cells; 2) embryonic germ cells; 3) umbilical cord stem cells; and 4) adult stem cells. Father Pacholczyk says that since embryonic germ cells can come from miscarriages where no deliberate interruption of pregnancy occurs, three of the four categories (all except embryonic stem cells) are potentially morally acceptable, and the Church vigorously encourages research in these areas.

Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of adult stem cells and an ethical, non-controversial option which can be used for many types of transplants.

Rep. Welch said that prior to the 2008 session, a coalition of cord blood advocates, including medical professionals, economic developers, legislators and members of the Hospital Association did extensive research and frequently met to discuss what other states were doing so that they could recommend language to the General Assembly this year.

“The language this coalition developed is found in House Bill 1172, and the bill has been refined and improved as it has moved through the process,” Rep. Welch said. “The priority of the cord blood bank would be for transplants.”

Dr. Scott Goebel, who is a stem cell transplant doctor responsible for cord blood transplants at Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, said, “One thing we are certain of, the applications and uses for these stem cells is just going to increase over the next few years. New applications cannot be discovered and or perfected without research units as well as clinically banked units, all donated by the public for the public good.”

“Currently, out of 10 cord blood donations, only two are of transplantable quality. The other eight would have research value,” Rep. Welch said. “What is exciting about this legislation is Indiana will be receiving hundreds of thousands of umbilical cord blood units with postnatal tissue for transplants and research.

“Postnatal tissue includes the cord blood, cord and placenta,” Rep. Welch said. “The goal is that we will increase the number of transplantable stem cells, help save lives of cancer patients, provide more research quality stem cells and improve the quality of life for Hoosiers both physically and financially.”

Rep. Welch anticipates a public blood bank will bring more researchers and “big” research dollars to Indiana and help in the area of economic development because of the spin-off businesses that will be created. According to the business plan, it is estimated that the public cord bank would be self-supporting in two to three years from its inception, she said.

A practicing nurse in the cancer unit at Bloomington Hospital, Rep. Welch said she has always had an interest in health issues. As a cancer nurse, she has had a particular interest in stem-cell research and the promise that it offers cancer victims.

Private donations of umbilical cord blood can be made for about $1,000—plus an annual storage fee of $100—but there is no provision for public donation.

Private and public umbilical cord blood banks have proven invaluable to the medical community. Many blood and immune diseases have been successfully treated using cord blood. Doctors use cord blood cells to treat about 70 diseases, mostly anemias or cancers of the blood, such as leukemias and lymphomas.

Sen. Patricia Miller (R-Indianapolis), Senate sponsor of House Bill 1172, said, “Stem cells have such a great future in helping those suffering from cancer and other diseases.

“Unlike the use of embryonic stem cells which destroys human life, cord blood stem cells are a moral, readily available source for stem cells which doesn’t hurt another living person in the process,” said Sen. Miller, who chairs the Senate Health Committee and the interim Health Finance Commission.

House Bill 1172, which also contains licensing for various professionals, is in conference committee. Rep. Welch, who is one of the conferees, said the bill has bipartisan support. She hopes that the bill will pass before the March 14 adjournment deadline.

(Brigid Curtis Ayer is a correspondent for The Criterion.) †

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