Nondestructive stem cell bill may save lives

Staff editorial published by The Gwinnett Daily Post
March 11, 2007

Advancement in medical science over the last few years has been both astounding and terrifying. No area of study has exacted that dichotomy more so than stem cell research.

In the minds of many, “stem cell research” is inextricably linked to the use of embryos as the source of these stem cells. The truth is that stem cells are found in the umbilical cords of newborns and in the placenta and amniotic fluids that result after birth.

This misunderstanding has created an uphill climb for state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, and his bill that encourages “nondestructive stem cell research.”

At the heart of Shafer’s Senate Bill 148 is a simple and logical tenet — that these valuable, potentially life-saving, postnatal tissues and fluids should be preserved, not thrown away as is the case now. These sources, Shafer explains, “are rich in stem cells that may be used for medical research and treatment without destroying human life at any stage of development.”

The bill, known as the “Saving the Cure Act” and co-sponsored by more than 30 senators including two other members of Gwinnett’s Senate delegation — Don Balfour, R-Snellville and Dan Weber, R-Dunwoody — would:
• Create the Georgia Commission for Saving the Cure and charge it with the promotion of nondestructive stem cell research and oversight of the Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank.
• Give every Georgia mother the opportunity to donate her postnatal tissue and fluid to the bank.

The bill honors Keone Penn of Gwinnett County, the first patient to receive a cord blood transplant from an unrelated donor for sickle cell disease. Keone had suffered a stroke at age 5, experienced excruciating pain and had to undergo biweekly blood transfusions before getting his cord blood transplant in 1998. A year after the transplant, Keone’s physicians declared him cured.

“I want to hug the man who thought of it,” Keone said at a banquet honoring cord blood transplant survivors. “I just want to give him a big hug and break his ribs and squeeze him so tight.”

Shafer’s bill goes out of its way to avoid any of the controversy that comes with embryonic stem cells. The public and our elected representatives in the Georgia General Assembly should do the same.

For Keone and thousands of others who could benefit from a bank of these nondestructive stem cells, this bill should become law.