Sen. Sam Brownback Visits National Cord Blood Program, Meeting Cord Blood Recipients and Continuing His Support for A National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Network
NEW YORK, May 16 -- Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) toured New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program and met with cord blood transplant recipients Jaclyn Albanese and Stephen Sprague as a lead co-sponsor of the Cord Blood Stem Cell Act of 2005 (S. 681) during a recent visit to New York. In the course of his visit, Senator Brownback talked with staff of the National Cord Blood Program and continued to emphasize the importance of setting up the National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Network. New York Blood Center’s (NYBC) President and CEO, Robert L. Jones, M.D., and its National Cord Blood Program Director, Pablo Rubinstein, M.D., recognized the leadership that Senator Brownback has exerted since this effort started in 2002.
“I call on the Department of Health and Human Services to begin implementing the recommendations of the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report immediately. Since funds have already been allocated, there is no reason to lose another day. Cord blood stem cells represent some of the most promising advances being made in the field of stem cell research and they are not controversial,” said Senator Brownback.
Every year several thousand US children and adults develop a lethal disease like leukemia and lymphoma, aplastic anemia and certain inherited diseases of the blood and immune system that can only be cured with a marrow transplant. An estimated 20,000 have no relative who can give them matched bone marrow. Most of these cannot find opportunely a suitable unrelated donor among the several million volunteer donors in marrow donor registries.
Cord blood stem cells, obtained from the placenta and umbilical cord (the afterbirth) of newborn babies, have been successfully used to treat such patients. Cord blood, donated by the mother, is a non-controversial source of stem cells, which -- unlike bone marrow -- can be collected without risk of any kind to donors and can be stored frozen, in fully viable condition, ready to be used at any time for a transplant. Another great advantage of cord blood is that -- unlike bone marrow -- it does not require an exact match with the patient’s tissue type. Thus, patients with uncommon tissue types, as is the case for many persons in ethnic minority groups, are able to find appropriate, though less than full, matches. Recipients do better, however, when the cord blood is well-matched. The pending federal legislation will help create a large inventory of high quality cord blood units so that nearly all patients have a chance to find a well-matched cord blood graft.
Cord blood is already a well accepted source of hematopoietic (or blood-forming) stem cells for children. Recent reports in the New England Journal of Medicine (Nov. 25, 2004 -- Vol.351, No. 22) -- one of which focused mainly on the outcomes of National Cord Blood Program stem cell graft recipients -- showed that umbilical cord blood stem cells are an effective option for adults also.
“Senator Brownback’s support of this bill marks a great step in our fight to save lives,” said Dr. Jones. “We hope that his involvement serves as a catalyst for other legislators to join this effort so that patients in need of a transplant do not have to die waiting for a matched volunteer donor: cord blood is another option..”
The bill was introduced earlier this year, into the House of Representatives (HR 596) by Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.) on February 2nd and into the Senate by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) on April 8th (S 681). The bill would authorize $15 million in federal funds during Fiscal Year 2006 and such sums as needed in FY 2007 to FY 2010 to subsidize Cord Blood Banks to collect, process, test, freeze and store 150,000 cord blood units, reflective of the ethnic diversity of our country, and make them available for transplantation. This National Inventory would allow up to 90 percent of patients to find a well-matched cord blood unit.
“We are very grateful for the constant commitment that Senator Brownback has provided in moving this important legislation forward,” said Dr. Rubinstein. “He wants to ensure that every patient, in every ethnic group, in need can find an appropriate transplant. By passing this bill, our country will start to fulfill that goal.”
Two patients also thanked the Senator’s for his support. Steven Sprague was one of the first adults whose life was saved from leukemia by a cord blood transplant 8 years ago. Jaclyn Albanese, who also received a cord blood transplant because of leukemia, will graduate from college next week and celebrate her fifth year cancer-free. According to Mr. Sprague, “This legislation gives new hope for all patients searching for a stem cell match ... adults as well as children. The patient community hopes that Congress will recognize the urgency to follow Mr. Brownback and will quickly implement this Program.” “Passage of the bill would really make a difference and help more people be transplanted much quicker” in the words of Jaclyn Albanese.
The New York Blood Center’s National Cord Blood Program (NCBP) pioneered banking cord blood for use in clinical transplantation. More than 28,000 mothers have donated their baby’s cord blood to the Program, which has provided cord blood transplants to more than 1,700 patients around the world.
New York Blood Center (NYBC), one of the nation’s largest community blood organizations has been providing blood, transfusion products and services to patients in New York and New Jersey hospitals since 1964. The New York Blood Center is also home to the Lindsley F. Kimball Research Institute and the National Cord Blood Program, the nation’s first and largest public cord blood bank. New York Blood Center operates a Clinical Services division as well as a Hemophilia Services division in collaboration with the Hemophilia Consortium -- providing critical drugs and blood products delivered to the homes of area hemophilia patients. New York Blood Center is not affiliated with the American Red Cross.
For more information, visit the National Cord Blood Program’s informational Web site at http://www.nationalcordbloodprogram.org.
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