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David Burrowes highlights the life-saving resource of umbilical cord blood

David Burrowes Commons David Burrowes, the Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Umbilical Cord Blood and Adult Stem Cells, was granted the adjournment debate at the end of business last Thursday.

He took the opportunity to raise an issue about which many may well be ignorant: the potentially life-saving benefits of collecting umbilical cord blood. As he explained:

"Patients in the UK requiring a bone marrow donor currently have a one in four chance of survival. Only 50 per cent. of those looking for a donor will find one, and of those only 50 per cent. will survive. For those who find a bone marrow donor, many get their donor too late in their disease for the treatment to achieve success and that contributes to the 50 per cent. failure rate. Greater provision of cord blood could help those patients to get treatment faster and improve their chances of survival. For those who currently have no bone marrow donor, a larger provision of cord blood would give many of them a potentially life-saving option.

"Despite an increase in the awareness of those reading or listening to this debate, I feel that a short explanation of umbilical cord blood is in order. The baby's blood which is left behind in the umbilical cord contains many different types of cells. Some of these cells are stem cells, which have been shown to have a number of medical applications. Over the past 20 years, collected cord blood has been used for transplantation in the same way as bone marrow. It has been used to treat patients suffering from diseases such as leukaemia, sickle-cell diseases, immune deficiencies and others. Currently, there are over 85 treatments based on cord blood and there are more clinical trials in the pipeline.

"Researchers believe that cord blood has the potential to treat many more diseases, once adult stem cells are properly understood. There have been trials that show that cord blood may be helpful in treating brain injuries in children. It is also being developed for other possible treatments such as diabetes, liver therapy, multiple sclerosis, testicular cancer and to regenerate damaged heart cells. The medical and financial value of cord blood should not be underestimated. Early indications from research conducted in the UK suggests that many of the patients currently receiving enzyme treatments at a cost of well over £100,000 per annum to the taxpayer, could find a cure through a cord blood transplant.

"Cord blood is particularly valuable in the treatment of leukaemia. It can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants. Collection of umbilical cord blood is a far less invasive procedure than extracting bone marrow. Units can be collected, frozen and then stored for years. That leads to fewer complications and makes transplants more readily available than bone marrow. Most importantly, it is easier to find matching stem cells from cord blood than from bone marrow. A properly developed infrastructure for the collection and storage of cord blood will do much to alleviate the severe shortage of life-saving stem cells needed for transplantation and facilitate research."

He went on to note that there is now an NHS cord blood bank which had banked 14,000 donations as of October 2009 and provided 279 units of cord blood to British patients. However, he said that academic research suggested that the country needs to bank at least 50,000 units of cord blood and urged the Government to fund appropriate research into the matter and to ensure that advantage is taken of "the wonderful opportunity offered by cord blood" rather than literally allowing it to be thrown away.

He emphasised that he believes that it should be "a matter of routine that all expectant parents are advised about cord blood, its value and benefits, and where it can be collected."

There is a full transcript of the debate on David Burrowes' website.

Jonathan Isaby


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