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David Burrowes urges action to preserve Umbilical Cord Blood

On Tuesday David Burrowes MP presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill that encourages the donation of umbilical cord blood and for it to be stored for public use: "The purpose of the Bill is to increase the awareness of the value of umbilical cord blood for the treatment of diseases and for further research of new treatment methods using cord blood stem cells. The Bill will require doctors to inform all parents of the benefits of collection and storage of cord blood and to presume consent for collection from families with a history of cord blood treatable diseases."

His speech is reproduced below:

Burrowesdavidtmrb "Mr Speaker, I beg to move that leave be given to bring a Bill to promote the donation of cord blood from women after giving birth; and for connected purposes.

With 6 children I should be declaring an interest in the subject of this Bill- the donation of umbilical cord blood. Living in my constituency of Enfield Southgate adjacent to Barnet General Hospital, which is one of only 4 NHS Hospitals which collects umbilical cord blood, there would seem to be good reason for developing an interest. However we have not donated umbilical cord blood despite 6 opportunities and a nearby hospital to do so. Like most parents throughout the UK we were not informed about the value of umbilical cord blood and the possibility of collection. Until recently I did not consider the umbilical cord, once clamped after birth, as anything more than a waste product.

The first purpose of this Bill and the opportunity of speaking about donating umbilical cord blood is to encourage parents and the wider public to be more informed about the value and benefits of umbilical cord blood.

Hon Members may be ignorant like I was of the nature of cord blood. The baby’s blood in the cord contains different types of cells including stem cells. Cord blood has been used for the last 20 years for blood transplantation. It has treated patients with leukaemia, sickle cell diseases, immune deficiencies and other diseases with 85 different treatments to date. There are possible treatments in the pipeline outside of blood therapy. Trials for the use of cord blood in brain injury in children are underway and cord blood is being developed for many other therapies including Diabetes and Liver Therapy.

Treatment for leukaemia highlights the value of cord blood transplants which can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants. Such cord blood transplants are less complicated, with fewer delays and are more readily available, being able to be stored and frozen for years. Significantly it is easier to find a match from stem cells than from bone marrow. Umbilical cord blood leads to increased access to transplantation, particularly for patients from ethnic minorities.

The reality is that umbilical cord blood which is thrown away routinely after birth has a life saving value.

Becki Josiah has contacted me after her daughter Billie died from leukaemia in April 2006. She was ill for 2 years and awaiting a bone marrow transplant. A major difficulty for the Josiah family was their daughter’s mixed race background. 

As Mrs Josiah said to me “Mixed race individuals have a much lower chance of receiving a match in bone marrow donations and cord blood donation gives them another vital chance at a cure.”

This Bill attempts to increase the chances for families like the Josiah’s of a cure. The current limitations on donation have also been highlighted to me by Mrs Josiah. She has recently had another baby but whilst she was pregnant she wanted to be ensure the donation of her new born baby’s cord blood to help cure another child with leukaemia like her daughter. However her family does not live near one of the four NHS Hospitals with facilities to accept her donation. It was not possible for the blood to “go to another family to help spare them the agony of losing someone they love”. Cord blood has successfully treated patients via their own blood, sibling related or another unrelated patient.

We must find a way of enabling more patients to access this source of treatment and my Bill takes some steps in this direction.

My interest in Umbilical Cord blood arose from scrutiny of the Draft Human Tissue and Embryo Bill as a member of the Joint Committee. Our remit was focussed on the Government’s approach which is to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of scientific development in embryonic stem cell research. A majority of public money supports embryonic related research compared to other stem cell sources.  This House will have the opportunity soon within the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill to debate whether it is wise to move into the realms of inter species research to deal with the limited number of embryonic stem cell lines.

As well as political hurdles there are ethical and biological hurdles in the way of the Government marching us up to the top of the hill of embryonic research.

It is therefore timely to consider an alternative hill of stem cell research. The terrain is the same – wanting the UK to be at the forefront of bringing stem cell therapies, regenerative medicine, to the clinic in order to relieve suffering and reduce healthcare costs. The focus though with the help of this Bill would be on cord blood stem cell therapy which already results in treatment of diseases. Research in this field holds out an exciting future. Notably, Professor Colin McGuckin has led a team in Newcastle to be the first in the world to characterise human embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood.

The question that this Bill raises is why are we routinely disregarding the proven life saving value of umbilical cord blood but legislating and investing predominantly in the unproven and ethically challenging route of embryonic research.

Given that in the foreseeable future we will depend on non embryonic stem cell therapies, why are we putting literally most of our eggs in one basket?

There are supporters of this Bill who are not necessarily opposed to embryo research but recognise the value of umbilical cord blood and its availability in large numbers. The Bill would make it a universal requirement for doctors to inform pregnant women of the benefits of collection and storage of cord blood.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that if there is a known genetic condition in a family or already a child with leukaemia or a blood related disorder a clinician may recommend that parents bank their baby’s cord blood. My Bill would presume that collection takes place in such circumstances unless parents opt out or medical reasons prevent it. If nothing is done in this area some private banks will exploit families’ fears.

The practical problem facing any future extension of donation of cord blood is the limited number of NHS maternity units equipped for collection and storage. The NHS cord blood bank at Edgware restricts its collections to Barnet General, Northwick Park Luton and Dunstable and Watford Hospitals which are the only dedicated units in England.

The collection sites do not form a planned approach to collection of cord blood and we are presently missing or more likely wasting the opportunity presented by umbilical cord blood. This Bill seeks to promote the collection of cord blood from specific shortage groups, particularly ethnic minority groups and mixed race families. The UK Thalassaemia Society, which has its base in Southgate in my constituency, recognises this particular point in its support of my Bill as does the UK Leukaemia Society.

They have highlighted to me the difficulties for leukaemia patients of Cypriot origin finding appropriate bone marrow matches and support the proposed extension of cord blood donation..

The purposes of this Bill are not wholly dependent upon legislation. The Anthony Nolan Trust, which also supports the Bill’s aim to promote the benefits of cord blood collection, is currently setting up the first Charitable Cord Bank in the UK and plans to promote opportunities for more cord donation. The hope is that 6 maternity units will facilitate collection. The aim is to harvest 12,500 cords within 5 years for clinical and research use.

This Bill seeks to raise our sights higher given the value of cord blood treating 85 diseases. It also seeks to rebalance the debate on stem cell therapy which can often be more led by media proxy and hype than the ability to realistically treat patients.

The Bill therefore supports an ethical and convenient alternative to embryonic sources of stem cells. Finally the Bill supports parents who are desperately waiting for treatment for their children with diseases like leukaemia. The last words I leave to Becki Josiah who says “I find it obscene that I could go into Selfridges tomorrow and buy a jar of face cream containing placenta but I cannot find anyone willing to collect and store the precious resource that is cord blood. Is there anything you can do to help me?”


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