Congress Passes Pro-Life Congressman’s Bill to Spend $53 Million on Adult Stem Cell Research

Bioethics   |   Jeff Sagnip   |   Dec 16, 2015   |   2:43PM   |   Washington, DC

With a unanimous show of support, U.S. Rep. Chris Smith’s legislation, the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act (H.R. 2820), cleared its final hurdle and is on its way to the President for signature and enactment.

Smith and lead co-sponsor Rep. Doris Matsui shepherded the bill through the House last summer with the support of Reps. David Jolly (R-FL) and Chaka Fattah (D-PA), and worked with Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Jack Reed (R-RI), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Al Franken (D-MN) who championed the bill in the Senate, making helpful modifications and sending it back to the House for one final vote of approval today.

As adopted by both chambers, H.R. 2820 now ensures that two collaborative programs that support treatment and therapies derived from adult stem cell lines will continue to receive funding through 2020. Under the legislation, the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program will be authorized for five years at $30 million annually, while the National Cord Blood Inventory (NCBI) is authorized at $23 million annually for a five year period. Smith authored the original law (The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005—P.L. 109-129) that created the national cord blood program and expanded the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program.

“It is incredibly timely to reauthorize this life-giving program during this gift-giving time of year,” Smith said. “Americans willing to give the gift of life to others are at the heart of the success of this program. In reauthorizing it we are grateful for the adult donors willing to provide bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells, as well as mothers who donate their child’s cord blood through public cord blood banks.”

“Passage of the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Reauthorization Act provides hope to the thousands of Americans and their families who suffer from painful and potentially life-threatening blood cancer or other bone marrow disorders,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “The ‘Be the Match’ National Registry makes possible life-saving transplants by connecting patients with donors, and funding the services and research needed to eradicate these devastating diseases.”

First passed in 2005, the original legislation established a nationwide integrated bone marrow and cord blood stem cell transplantation program. Stem cells derived from cord blood and bone marrow have been used successfully to treat tens of thousands of patients with such diseases as leukemia, sickle cell anemia and genetic disorders. The enactment of H.R. 2820 will continue to build these donor networks, thus enabling more people to have access to these lifesaving treatments.

“It remains one of the best kept secrets in America that umbilical cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells in general are curing people of a myriad of terrible conditions and diseases in adults as well as children. Cord blood, what was once seen as medical waste, is now making miracles,” Smith said.

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There are 13 public banks contracted through NCBI, including the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank which collects cord blood from five participating hospitals. The New Jersey Cord Blood Bank, part of Community Blood Services in Montvale, has approximately 7,000 cord blood units in storage and has shipped 300 units to transplant centers for treatment.

The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) estimates that every year about 12,600 people depend on the programs made available by this law to find an unrelated adult marrow donor or cord blood unit for treatment.

Today, Americans have access to more than 12 million adult volunteer donors and 209,000 cord blood units through the national registry, known as “Be The Match.” Transplants involving these adult stem cells are often the only hope for patients battling fatal blood cancers and other bone marrow disorders and conditions. Since the inception of the registry, the Program has successfully facilitated 68,000 transplants.

Importantly, during consideration in the Senate HELP Committee, language was added to direct the relevant agencies to study the state of science using adult stem cells and birthing tissues to develop new therapies for patients. Smith said, “Last year I visited Celgene Corporation of Summit, New Jersey to learn of its extraordinary efforts to use cord blood to heal diabetic foot ulcers and how its researchers turned amniotic membrane—an old placenta—into wound management that has now advanced past stage three3 clinical trials to the approval and regulatory filings stage.

“Breathtaking scientific breakthroughs have turned medical waste—post birth placentas and umbilical cord blood–into medical miracles treating more than 70 diseases including leukemia, lymphoma and sickle cell anemia,” said Smith. “Not only has God in His wisdom and goodness created a placenta and umbilical cord to nurture and protect the precious life of an unborn child, but now we know that another gift awaits us immediately after birth. Something very special is left behind—cord blood that is teeming with lifesaving stem cells.”

Original House cosponsors David Jolly (R-FL) and Chaka Fattah also joined in celebration of the bill’s passage. Representative Jolly said, “I applaud my colleagues in the House and Senate for approving this bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation program and the National Cord Blood Inventory through fiscal year 2020.  These programs have saved tens of thousands of lives and continue to make key advances in marrow and cord blood transplantations that increase survival rates and expand the number of diseases for which marrow transplantation is a cure.  I urge the President to sign this important, life-saving measure right away.”

Representative Fattah said, “Evolving research tells us that bone marrow and cord blood transplants continue to be effective treatments for a number of diseases and disorders, but in order for this to be truly successful, we must ensure that access to the national registry is expanded and there are readily available donor databases for those patients in need. The passage of this legislation will now ensure these steps happen and will ultimately save lives as a result. This issue has been a longstanding priority for me, and I am proud Congress has voted overwhelmingly to reauthorize the critical funding for these two programs.”