Thursday, December 30, 2010

NJ eyes legislation that would create inexpensive storage of stem cells

From Town Journal in N.J.:

Filling prescriptions today can be expensive, but imagine being able to remedy 50 to 60 diseases for just $5.

Legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would add a $5 fee to the cost of a birth certificate for the donation, processing and storage of umbilical cords. The stem cells inside the cords would be used to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, cerebral palsy, aplastic anemia and various other cancers, blood diseases, hereditary conditions and immune system disorders.

"This promises saving lives," said Assemblywoman Connie Wagner (D-Paramus, pictured), who is the primary sponsor of the bill. "When you've been told nothing else will work, I'd like to know that there is still a chance."

Kate Lee, chair of the Junior League of New Jersey, a women's nonpartisan organization, agrees.

"This is medical waste that can save lives," she said.

New Jersey has always been at the forefront of umbilical cord donations. In 2005, it was the first state with a publicly funded umbilical cord blood and placental stem cell bank and education program in the United States. As of today, New Jersey has one of only 12 programs in the nation for public umbilical cord donations. The New Jersey Cord Blood Bank (NJCBB), located in Allendale, stores the donations.

According to Dr. Dennis Todd of the NJCBB, stem cells are collected from the umbilical cord after the baby's birth, with no danger to the mother or the child. The blood is collected and then delivered to the NJCBB facility to be processed within 48 hours. It is then stored in liquid nitrogen freezers.

Collecting samples of blood cells from umbilical cords isn't a new phenomenon. In 2007, a bill was passed through the Senate that required hospitals and health care professionals to tell women they had the option to donate or store umbilical cord blood and placental tissue. Private donations and storage of blood cords have previously been done in case a family member gets sick, but it's a costly endeavor that could cost up to $2,000 plus an annual storage fee, Todd said.

With this new legislation, the one-time $5 fee would be used to train physicians on how to collect the blood, process it and store it at the NJCBB. Because the bank is public and part of a registry, the donations would be available to anyone in the world.

In addition, because New Jersey has the most diverse population, cord blood donation would hopefully combat the lack of stem cells that can be matched with minorities, Todd said.

Cord blood donations are also more reliable than blood from bone marrow, as the cells are still young and haven't fully developed, yielding to a better acceptance rate by recipients.

Funding for this program was promised at its inception, but never materialized, Lee said. The suggested $5 fee would simply allow the cord blood bank to survive. Regardless, it's still a "no brainer," she said.

The legislation, according to Wagner, has been enjoying bi-partisan support.

"If these programs shut down, a lot of people would not get a transplant to save their lives," Todd said.

"I know times are difficult, but it's a small investment," Wagner says. "I think a $5 investment is worth saving a life."