Proposal may help bring hope to many sufferers

Staff editorial published by The Macon Telegraph
March 14, 2007

There is a philosophical battle going on in conservative circles about stem cell research. Stem cell research holds the promise that these tiny cells that can become any part of the body and might be the cure for several diseases and conditions. Terminology has muddled the picture. Embryonic stem cells, the source of the controversy, taken from a tiny embryo, is just one source of stem cells. There are adult stem cells, animal stem cells and cord blood stem cells. Adult stem cells are less versatile than embryonic and cord blood stem cells. While embryonic stem cell research is hampered by the lack of federal dollars due to a 2006 prohibition signed by President Bush because harvesting the cells destroys the embryo, there is no such problem with cord blood cells discovered in 2005. Cord cells are taken from the umbilical cord, placenta and amniotic fluid, tissue that is routinely discarded as medical waste after the birth of a baby.

A proposal before the Georgia Legislature, Senate Bill 148, addresses the cord blood stem cell issue in a unique and innovative way. Sponsored by state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, and Cecil Staton, R-Macon, the law would establish a Georgia Commission for Saving the Cure. The mission of the commission would be to set up, in conjunction with public and private universities and hospitals, tissue banks. Women, after giving birth could voluntarily donate their postnatal tissue and fluid to the Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank. The women would not be required to donate and they could also donate the tissue to a private firm.

Why would a woman want to do this? First, there is a chance their child might need the cells. Several conditions, leukemia, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, sickle cell and other maladies are thought to be curable using stem cells. Only research will prove or disprove the theories.

The bill is called Keone’s Law for Keone Penn of Snellville. Keone suffered a stroke when he was 5 brought on by sickle cell anemia. When he was 12, doctors treated him using cord blood stem cells. The procedure worked, and Keone no longer has to undergo the monthly transfusions that were beginning to lose effectiveness.

This proposal as now written is a no-brainer. It has dutifully stayed away from the controversy surrounding embryonic stem cells, something last year’s attempt did not.

The big challenge for state government will be to find funding. Establishing cord blood banks and keeping track of their contents will be expensive and ongoing. Still, saving the cells that could lead to a cure for a host of condition is a good move. While we can only imagine the uses of cord blood stem cells today, Georgians of tomorrow may see a different reality.