10 January 2010
ByAppeared in BioNews 540
Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate, David Burrowes, led an adjournment debate in the House of Commons this week on the issue of umbilical cord blood banking and use. Stem cells from the umbilical cord of newborn babies have been successfully used as an alternative to bone marrow in the treatment of many blood disorders such as leukaemia, sickle-cell disease and immuno-deficiencies. Clinical research has also shown that cord blood may be developed to treat diabetes, liver therapy, multiple sclerosis, testicular cancer and may even regenerate damaged heart cells. Burrowes highlighted the need for an improved infrastructure for the collection of cord blood cells - currently, up to 99.5 per cent of all cord blood that could be utilised is being discarded by hospital staff as biological waste.
This is not the first time that this issue has received the attention of the UK Parliament. In 2008, Burrowes introduced a private member's bill to raise awareness of cord blood and its potential, an issue that was subsequently debated during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act. It was argued that as only half of patients looking for a bone marrow donor will find one and, of those that do, only half will survive, there is a need for greater understanding and use of cord blood, and an increase in the number of cord blood units saved may improve the chance of survival. Furthermore, using stem cells from cord blood does not raise the same ethical concerns as those derived from human embryos and aborted fetuses and, as the Government has already stretched ethical boundaries to accommodate so-called 'savour siblings', then the use of cord blood should be afforded greater priority.
Burrowes explained that the medical and financial value of cord blood should not be underestimated. He stated: 'A properly developed infrastructure for collection and storage of cord blood will do much to alleviate the severe shortage of life-saving cells needed for transplantation and research'. It is his hope that the introduction of the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Umbilical Cord Blood and the Government's national cord blood review will go some way to addressing these issues. He added: 'I hope the government will demonstrate a clear commitment to a comprehensive cord blood strategy to increase cord blood collection and research, and as a result, a commitment to the many lives that can be saved'.Although The NHS cord blood bank currently has stocks of approximately 14,000 units, more is needed, particularly from black and ethnic minority communities.