FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 12, 2005
With Over 140 People In Tompkins County Diagnosed With Blood Cancer, Schumer Announces New Life-Saving Umbilical Cord Blood Program
175,000 People Nationally Diagnosed With Fatal Diseases That Cord Blood Can Treat; New Program Would Turn “Medical Waste into Medical Miracles”
Senator Joined by Doctor and Patient Who Shared Personal Stories
Over the past five years, over 140 people in Tompkins County have been diagnosed with blood cancer and could be saved by an umbilical cord blood cell transplant, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today. Schumer unveiled a new sweeping federal plan to coordinate the donation of umbilical cord blood, a viable and more accessible alternative to bone marrow. Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells, which are the building blocks of the immune system and can be used to treat a variety of life-threatening diseases. Cord blood has the ability to treat the same diseases as bone marrow but can be used in more situations because its cells are less mature than marrow cells and does not require a perfect genetic match to be used in a transplant.
“We have an incredible opportunity to turn medical waste into medical miracles,” Schumer said. “Mothers bringing one new life into the world, can possibly save another one by donating their umbilical cord blood. If we standardize the process, there’s no reason why nearly every healthy mother can’t donate.”
At least 175,000 people nationwide over the past five years have been diagnosed with fatal diseases that can be treated by a bone marrow transplant, but many die waiting for a donor match. Blood from umbilical cords, a byproduct of birth, is a rich source of hematopoietic (HEM-'AT-OH-POE-'ET-IC) progenitor cells. The only other place this type of stem cell is found is in bone marrow. Transplants of the stem cells have been used to cure a variety of lethal blood diseases from leukemia to sickle cell anemia. Bone marrow donors are difficult to find for sick patients because a perfect genetic match is usually required between donor and recipient. Cord blood stem cells, however, are less mature than those in bone marrow and can be successfully used even when there is not a perfect match.
About 20 public cord blood banks operate in the U.S. but none of these are in upstate New York. Public cord blood banks provide free and easily accessible services to a limited number of hospitals in their area, but their budgets are already strained by these services alone, since it costs over $1,000 to bank a single unit of cord blood. Since upstate New York hospitals are not served by any of these cord blood banks, mothers delivering babies are only likely to learn about the option of donating their blood to a private bank - which can only be accessed by the donating family and could cost thousands of dollars. Right now, if a mother wants to donate her baby’s cord blood to save a life, the burden is on her to find a public bank that will work with her to collect the blood. In fact, very few public banks even accept out of state donations. One such private bank will collect cord blood donations for free, by sending the family a kit with instructions for the doctor, but the burden is cumbersome.
Cord blood stem cell transplants have saved the lives of roughly 20,000 Americans with fatal blood diseases. Unfortunately, thousands of patients who might benefit from these transplants die every year waiting for a bone marrow match if they have not heard about the cord blood option or if not enough units exist in public banks to provide for a match.
Today Schumer introduced a new, sweeping federal umbilical cord blood program. He will:
• Cosponsor The Cord Blood Therapy Act, which would create a network of qualified cord blood banking centers to prepare, store, and distribute human umbilical cord blood stem cells for the treatment of patients and to support research using such cells.
• Increase awareness in the public as well as the medical field through education and training. Obstetricians need to be trained in the proper way to collect cord blood, and pregnant women should be informed about the option to donate to public banks before getting to the third trimester.
• Increase accessibility to public cord blood banks by regions that are not currently served. Each hospital should be served by at least one public cord blood bank that has an established presence at the hospital. Private cord blood banks that restrict the use of collected blood are usually the only option presented to mothers delivering babies at most hospitals across the country.
• Request that the FDA create a process for licensure of FDA-approved cord blood banks. Schumer will recommend that the New York Blood Center, because of its prominence in the cord blood community be the first licensed cord blood bank, which would then be used as a model to set the standards for licensure for other cord blood banks.
• Establishing the New York Blood Center as a National Resource Center of practices and standards that other cord blood banks can utilize as a model
“The bottom line is that there has always been a great deficit of bone marrow, and people find it almost impossible to find a match. By making cord blood more accessible, we’ll be able to help people who are in grave need. We have a bi-partisan bill that would do just that.”
There are approximately 180,000 units of cord blood stored in banks across the country. The Institute of Medicine figures that 50,000 units of the 180,000 currently in inventory are usable, but at least 150,000 usable units are needed to meet demand. The problem is compatibility, which experts say is determined by six surface proteins, or HLA markers, on each cell. The more closely the markers on the donor's cells match those of the recipient, the less likely it is that the patient's body will reject the transplant. Transplant recipients, especially African and Asian minorities, are much more likely to find a compatible donor if the supply of cord blood is tripled. While cord blood has been used in pediatric transplants for several years, it is only now starting to gain traction in the adult community
In addition to patients with leukemia, cord blood is now being used to treat over 60 other fatal immune and blood diseases. These include: severe combined immune deficiency (“boy-in-the-bubble syndrome”), lymphoma, adrenoleukodystrophy (Lorenzo’s Oil Disease), and Sickle Cell Anemia among others.
Cord blood also offers an extraordinary amount of hope for African Americans, who have the lowest success rate of finding non-related bone marrow donors. The ethnic diversity of the bone marrow registry is quite low: although African Americans make up 12% of the population, they only account for 6% of the bone marrow registry. Many African Americans also have both European and African ancestry which puts them at a disadvantage because a person with both tissue types has much more difficulty finding a match. Because of the diversity of tissue types, an African American requires three times the number of donors as a Caucasian to have the same chance of finding a match. Cord blood is a particularly good choice for this community because it doesn’t require a perfect match.