by Daniel O’Shea
WASHINGTON (CNS) — “These programs are examples of how the Congress can inspire innovation to bring cures to patients across America,” said one witness, Dr. Jeffrey W. Chell, CEO of the National Marrow Donor Program.
Chell and Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, a professor at Duke University and director of the Carolina Cord Blood Bank, were among those who testified at a hearing titled “Examining Public Health Legislation,” convened June 25 by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee.
The subcommittee included consideration of the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act of 2015, written by U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-New Jersey. He and Rep. Doris Matsui, D-California, introduced the bill a week earlier with bipartisan support.
“Cord blood and bone-marrow adult stem cells have an applicability and potential that is proven and invaluable — promising life-saving cures for multiple diseases. The program must be extended and I look forward to this bill advancing quickly through the legislative process and being signed into law,” Smith said in a statement.
Smith also was the author of the 2005 measure, which created the National Cord Blood Inventory program and continued the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation program, which provides support to patients who need a potentially life-saving bone marrow transplant or umbilical cord-blood transplant.
The cell transplantation program is named for the late Congressman C.W. Bill Young. In 1986 he backed efforts to strengthen the National Marrow Donor Program’s “Be the Match” registry. That led to the program named for Young, who died in 2013 at age 82.
The 2015 bill would reauthorize funding from fiscal year 2016 through fiscal year 2020, with $23 million a year for the National Cord Blood Inventory and $30 million a year for C.W. Bill Young program.
“Both programs have made a tremendous difference in the lives of thousands of patients,” Kurtzberg testified.
The Catholic Church supports research and therapies utilizing adult stem cells, which can develop into a variety of specialized cells, alleviating degenerative illnesses by repairing damaged tissues. Adult stem cells are drawn from living human beings without harming them, as well as from umbilical cord blood or bone marrow. The church opposes any research that harms the human embryo.
Statistics show that more than 60,000 patients around the world are receiving treatments for a variety of diseases from adult stem cells.
Smith’s 2005 measure helped push for the collection of umbilical blood-cord units from hospitals that otherwise would have discarded them, so that stem cells could be derived from them for research and treatments.
Kurtzberg noted the successes of the National Cord Blood Inventory program, including how it was providing unrelated cord-blood donations for the purpose of treating diseases such as sickle cell anemia. “Unrelated” means the cord-blood comes from one individual but is used for another patient.
She also spoke about the potential use of cord-blood cellular therapies for the treatment of brain injuries.
“Over the past six years, we have initiated trials of autologous (the patient’s own) cord blood in babies with birth asphyxia … cerebral palsy, hearing loss and autism.”
In his testimony Chell told the story of 11-year-old Brandy Bly, who was battling leukemia. In the 1980s Brandy’s family was unable to find a bone-marrow donor match for her and she died. It was that case that lead to the creation of the “Be the Match” registry, which then was expanded to include cord blood by Smith’s 2005 bill.
“Today we are able to treat patients with cancers and pre-cancers, such as leukemia, myelodysplasia and lymphomas; bone-marrow failure disorders, such as aplastic anemia and immunodeficiency syndrome; and genetic diseases, such as sickle cell disease,” he said.
“The adult stem cells found in bone marrow and cord blood provide hope not only for curing the diseases and conditions currently known, but they also set the stage for even more cures in the future,” said Smith, a member of the Congressional Pro-life Caucus for 32 years. During his 18 terms in the House of Representatives, he’s help co-found caucuses on Alzheimer’s, Lyme disease and autism.
It’s clear such programs will become more necessary than ever in the future.
“The need for transplants is increasing, especially among older Americans. The calculated need for unrelated transplant has increased by 25 percent since 2005,” according to Chell’s testimony.