Bush Signs Non-Controversial Stem Cell Bill into Law

President Bush signed into law on Tuesday a bill that will allow umbilical cords to be used for stem cell research and avoid the controversy over embryonic stem cells.

The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 (HR 2520), which passed the House of Representatives on Saturday by a vote of 413-0, also establishes a national umbilical cord blood program providing federal funding to collect and store cord blood for life-saving blood cell transplants and reauthorizing the existing national Registry for marrow donors.

“We have been working on this bill since 2001, and I am thankful that treatments will now, finally, be made available to patients in need,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), in a released statement.

“So many people don’t realize that cord blood and adult stem cells are already treating patients, and have achieved remarkable breakthroughs over the past year,” he also stated.

Although umbilical cords are a rich, non-controversial source of stem cells, hospitals currently throw away millions of umbilical cords each year because the infrastructure required to properly collect and store them is not available. However, under the new law, the number of cord blood units and cord blood stem cells available for treating patients and expanding research will now greatly increase.

“Now that President Bush has made my bill law, for the first time a nationwide stem cell transplantation system will be established,” said Smith.

According to the congressman, the new law will provide $265 million for life saving stem cell therapy, cord blood and bone marrow transplant. Specifically, $79 million will be authorized for the collection and storage of cord blood stem cells with the goal of reaching a total inventory of 150,000 units. This would make them available to more than 90 percent of patients in need. A specific focus of the collection will be to provide more genetic diversity in available units.

In addition, the new law reauthorizes $186 million over the next five years to the national bone marrow transplant system and combines both systems (cord blood and bone marrow) under one program – providing an easy, single access point for doctors and patients.

“Thousands of Americans who might have otherwise continued to suffer or died will now be saved because larger and diverse inventories of umbilical cord stem cells will be available,” said Smith.

The national program will also promote stem cell research by requiring participating cord blood banks to donate units not suitable for transplant to researchers and scientists.

Pro-life advocates support adult stem cell and cord blood stem cell research because each does not involve destroying an embryo, as is done in embryonic stem cell research.

"Unlike the empty promises of embryonic stem-cell research, cord-blood stem cells provide patients with real treatment and cures," Wendy Wright, Executive Vice President of Concerned Women for America, noted yesterday in a statement released after Congress passed the bill. "Thousands of patients will have more than just their hopes realized – their lives will be saved and suffering relieved, because this law will make ethical cord-blood stem cells available to them.”

Already, thousands have been successfully treated with cord blood stem cells for a variety of diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, myelodysplasia, severe aplastic anemia, genetic diseases of the blood and immune system, certain genetic metabolic diseases like adrenoleukodystrophy ("Lorenzo's oil disease"), as well as Krabbe disease and Hurler's disease. And according to Smith, the infusion of federal funds will make this “medical miracle” available to thousands more and will ensure that research continues so that this source of stem cells can treat many other debilitating diseases.