We’ve all heard about the potential of stem cells to cure a wide range of life threatening illnesses. We also know the controversy surrounding this research and the moral questions it raises.
There is a means to collect stem cells that is free from controversy: the collection of stem cells from umbilical cords of newborn babies. Cord blood donated following the birth of a healthy baby is rich in blood-making cells. These cells can be used to treat children and adults with certain cancers and otherwise fatal blood disorders.
Sadly, this potentially life-saving option is not available to most of us due to the high cost of testing, processing and storing cord blood cells. We’ve all seen commercials for private cord blood banks that never mention the cost. It’s almost like the old saying, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it.”
Also, private cord blood banks cater to family members genetically related to the infant whose cord blood is collected. The benefit is narrowly directed, and private banks never tell you there are a few public cord blood banks across the nation.
Senate Bill 139 would create the first publicly funded cord blood bank here in Oklahoma, allowing every family to donate their infant’s cord blood without regard to their personal wealth. A family’s socioeconomic status should never stand between life and death.
By making this service available to more people, chances are increased that more Oklahomans could benefit from cord blood cells. Immune types are specific to ethnic groups. Because of that, cord blood from a diverse array of individuals increases the chances to save lives.
How important is this? Almost three-quarters of children and adults requiring a bone marrow transplant do not have an immune matched sibling who could be a donor.
In those desperate cases, the only option is to find an unrelated donor through the national bone marrow and cord blood registries. The more people who donate cord blood, the better chance there is to save a life.
Texas is ahead of us in this effort. The Texas Legislature approved between $2-$3 million in grants that began their cord blood bank in 2005. That state money is being combined with private donations, a model that could serve as a good template here in Oklahoma.
We owe it to ourselves to catch up. There are cases of children whose lives flickered before transplants of stem cells made possible by cord blood donations. Many of those once-flickering souls now shine brightly in the form of healthy children.
Think of it: $3.5 million – about one dollar for every man, woman and child in our state – could save countless lives today and those yet unborn. It is a small price to pay, and we dare not let this chance to save and improve lives pass us by.