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ss triple helix - Easter 2010,  Umbilical cord blood stem cells - we told you so

Umbilical cord blood stem cells - we told you so

In January 2008 CMF welcomed a new bill which encouraged the donation at childbirth of umbilical cord blood and its storage for public use, (1) and called on the government to invest more actively in developing the NHS cord stem cell bank.

MP David Burrowes' Umbilical Cord Blood (Donation) Bill (2) aimed to increase awareness of umbilical cord blood's value in treating diseases and to promote further research for new treatment methods using cord blood stem cells. The bill required doctors to inform all parents of the benefits of collection and storage, and sought to promote collection from specific shortage groups, such as mixed race families and families with a history of cord blood treatable diseases.

Sadly, the bill was not granted parliamentary time to progress, the government instead pursuing its agenda of cytoplasmic animal-human hybrid (cybrid) research through the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill – a bill that is now law. Very shortly after this bill was passed, new research suggested this avenue of research was unlikely ever to be successful. At the time CMF predicted animal-human hybrid research would become a 'farcical footnote in history'. (3)

This January scientists reported exciting new developments suggesting that cord blood may well hold the answer for people with leukaemia requiring bone marrow transplants, and quite possibly for those suffering from other similar diseases. (4) The latest advance greatly multiplies the tiny number of cells from the cord ready for a transplant.

The same day the BBC carried the story of Natalie Salama-Levy who was unable to donate cord blood from her baby, due at London's Royal Free Hospital, because the hospital lacked the facilities to collect and store it. (5) Ironically her husband chairs 'The Cord Blood Charity' and was inspired to become involved following the death of a close friend from leukaemia. In 2008 only three NHS hospitals were collecting cord blood, and the situation has not improved much. Cord blood has already cured around 10,000 people around the world, but despite this our own UK cord blood banking facilities are woefully behind the times. We should be making this simple and ethically uncontroversial technology much more readily accessible.

The number of live births (currently around 700,000 per year in England and Wales alone) has been increasing every year since 2001. If the government had been more active in encouraging cord blood storage in the last five years, rather than over-hyping hopes about hybrid embryonic stem cells, we could potentially have had millions of samples of stem cells banked for treatment by now. Instead they intend to invest only £10 million to increase the size of the bank to 20,000 stored units by 2013 – see my blog. (6)

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