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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 19, 2005

Schumer Announces Senate & House Passed Bill Establishing 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”

Schumer Traveled New York To Speak with Patients and Doctors On The Promise of This Science

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced today that the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate passed the Cord Blood Stem Cell 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. Schumer, who co-sponsored the legislation, met with doctors and patients across New York about the promise of this science throughout the year.

“This is an incredible opportunity to turn medical waste into medical miracles,” Schumer said. “There has always been a major deficit of bone marrow, and people find it almost impossible to find a match. But now, by making cord blood more accessible, we can help people who are in grave need. Today we are not only offering them hope, but also the promise of a science that saves lives.”

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.

The Cord Blood Stem Cell Act, which passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, would provide a total of $265 million for life-saving stem cell therapeutic therapy, cord blood and bone marrow treatment. The legislation authorizes $79 million dollars for the collection of cord blood stem cells with the goal of reaching a total inventory of 150,000 units, making matched stem cells available to treat more than 90 percent of patients, with a particular focus on providing genetic diversity. It also reauthorizes the national bone marrow transplant system at $186 million over the next 5 years and combines both systems – cord blood and bone marrow – under a new program to provide an easy, single access point for information for doctors and patients.

The national program would promote stem cell research by requiring participating cord blood banks to donate units that are not suitable for transplant to researchers who are working on new applications for cord blood stem cells. In addition, for the first time, a nationwide stem cell transplantation system would be established.

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.

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.

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.

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