A lawmaker says every Oklahoma family should be able to bank potentially life-saving umbilical cord blood from newborns through a publicly funded cord blood bank.
Senator Jay Paul Gumm, D-Durant, has introduced a measure that would create Oklahoma’s first public cord blood bank. “Cord blood donated following the birth of a healthy baby is rich in blood-making stem cells,” he explained. “Already, these cells can be used to treat children and adults with certain cancers and otherwise fatal blood disorders.”
Gumm said umbilical cord blood banks allows for the collection of stem cells without the moral implications that cause so many to have concerns about that research. The proposal would make cord blood banking a possibility for any Oklahoma family.
Private cord blood banks are available now, but the cost associated with testing, processing and storing cord blood cells is out of the reach of most Oklahoma families. “We’ve all seen commercials for private cord blood banks that never mention the cost,” he said. “It’s almost like the old saying, ‘If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’.”
Another problem with private banks, the senator added, is that they cater to those who pay the bill: family members genetically related to the infant whose cord blood is collected. The benefit is narrowly directed, and the cells in the blood are not part of national bone marrow and cord blood registries.
Senate Bill 139 directs the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, in concert with the state Health Commissioner, to establish, operate and maintain the cord blood bank. The public bank means every family who wishes to do so – regardless of their personal wealth – can donate their infant’s cord blood and put it in the national registries. The cells would be available not only for that family, but any disease victim who is a match.
“By making this service available to more people, chances are increased that more Oklahomans could benefit from cord blood cells and countless lives potentially could be saved.” Gumm said.
Oklahoma is behind one of our neighboring states in the area of public cord blood banking, he related. The Texas Legislature provided support to the Texas Cord Blood Bank through a $1 million start-up grant in 2004 and a $1.2 million matching grant in 2005.
“We owe it to ourselves to catch up here in Oklahoma,” Gumm said. “There are cases of children whose lives flickered before transplants of stem cells made possible by cord blood donations. Many of those once-flickering souls now shine brightly in the form of healthy children.”
The Texas model is a public/private partnership, a template that would serve Oklahoma well, Gumm said. “If we put a small expenditure in the budget this year for start-up – say one dollar for every Oklahoman, or $3.5 million – we can get the ball rolling,” he said.
After that, the lawmaker said, it would be a good investment to continue legislative support tied to private giving. “I have no doubt that support for this among Oklahomans would grow if we in the Legislature can give it a jump start,” he said.
“The people of this state are generous and giving – we donate blood at twice the rate of other states and we give more to charity than most other states,” Gumm concluded. “It will only take a little spark from the Capitol to start a fire that will save lives and protect those yet unborn.”