Pro-lifers Rally Behind Cord Blood Storage

British politician David Burrowes is to present a measure to Parliament for its second reading on Friday as he continues to champion a new ethical treatment using umbilical cord blood.

The Umbilical Cord Blood (Donation) Bill was first introduced by Conservative Member of Parliament Burrowes in January. He said at the time that he wanted the bill to encourage parents and the wider public to be more informed about the value and benefits of umbilical cord blood, particularly for the treatment of diseases, and the use of cord blood stem cells for medical research into new treatments.

If passed, the bill will require the Secretary of State to encourage pregnant women to donate their umbilical cord blood after birth, increase awareness of the value of umbilical cord blood for the treatment of diseases and for research of new treatment methods, and promote the collection of cord blood from designated groups where there is a history of disease that may be treatable using cord blood.

The measure also proposes to issue guidance to doctors to make sure that pregnant women are made aware of information on the collection and storage of cord blood, and that the Secretary of State will publish targets for the number of cord blood samples donated at health service hospitals in specified calendar years.

Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells and has been used to treat more than 50 diseases, including a number of cancers. The stem cells can also be used in transplants, particular where a suitable bone marrow donor could not be located. Pro-life groups have come out in support of collecting cord blood, saying it provides an ethical alternative to medical research using stem cells extracted from embryos.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, founder and director of Christian Concern For Our Nation, said the bill was timely in view of the current debate about embryonic stem cell research and so-called "savior siblings," just two of the provisions in the Human Fertilization and Embryology (HFAE) Bill currently making its way through Parliament. The creation of savior siblings to help treat a sick brother or sister is controversial because it involves the selection of a designer embryo, while others that do not match are destroyed.

"Allowing for this in our law, even with restrictions, opens the way for designer babies," she said. "Furthermore, throughout the passage of the HFE Bill there has been little discussion regarding the rights of 'savior' children and in particular, how they will feel about having to donate their tissue and the kind of pressure they will feel under as they grow older."

CCFON and other pro-life groups are urging their supporters to contact MPs to voice their opposition to the wide ranging provisions within the HFAE Bill, which will reach its final report and third reading stage in the House of Commons on Oct. 22.

Burrowes, who was a member of the Joint Committee originally scrutinizing the draft of the HFEA Bill said: "We heard surprisingly little about stem cell therapy other than embryo and inter-species research. Given the ethical, political, and biological constraints of embryonic stem cell therapies we will for the foreseeable future depend on the development of other stem cell therapies like cord blood. When cord blood stem cells have been successfully used to treat 85 diseases and have the potential to treat more, we should do much more to support donation, collection, treatment and research."

Colin McGuckin, professor of Regenerative Medicine at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, added: "Cord blood has already cured around 10,000 people, but despite this much of the UK stem cell funding goes towards other types of stem cells including embryonic stem cells, which are not expected to cure people in the next 50 years. Value for public money demands that this is addressed and patients get what they need."

CCFON noted that the development of cord blood banks would remove the need for the creation of savior siblings.

The Anthony Nolan Trust opened the UK's first combined public cord blood bank and research center last month, and plans to have 50,000 cord bloods in storage by 2013, with 20,000 suitable for life-saving transplantations and 30,000 for research.