London (CNSNews.com) - A U.S. firm that specializes in freezing and storing newborn babies' stem cells for possible future therapeutic use by their families has urged President Bush to throw his weight behind a national "save all stem cells" program.
Each year millions of umbilical cords are discarded by hospitals after childbirth, when the stem cells contained in the cord blood could be used to save lives, Cryo-Cell's chief executive, Daniel D. Richard, wrote in a letter to Bush this week.
A national drive to educate people about the enormous potential benefits of saving and storing stem cells from this source would be "an effective and non-controversial way to help fund stem cell research," he said.
Parents could either have their babies' cord blood stem cells stored for the family's own future use; donate them to public banks which seek matches between donors and patients needing transplants; or donate them to scientists researching ways stem cells can be used to treat debilitating diseases.
In each case, the move would be uncontroversial and raise none of the ethical difficulties that have faced those on either side of the continuing debate over embryonic or fetal stem cell research.
"The only reason any parent would allow their newborn's cord blood to be discarded rather than help save a life, is they are unaware of the medical importance of the stem cells in each cord," Richard wrote.
"There is no question when we heighten the awareness of both expectant parents and their medical caregivers they will not opt to see any umbilical cords discarded."
He acknowledged that private stem cell storage banks like Cryo-Cell would benefit from a heightened awareness among parents of the advantages of storing cells for their own families' exclusive use.
But public banks would also see a huge increase in donations from parents who choose not to store the cells for themselves, but would rather donate than discard them, once they realize lives can be saved, he added.
Richard urged Bush to use his voice and office to promote such a national drive. Not only would this provide future medical benefits for many, he said, but it would also provide researchers with an abundance of publicly donated stem cells for their work.
"This in turn could help reduce millions of dollars of the government's expenditures for necessary research."
Stem cells are the basic building blocks of all tissue, blood and muscle. Scientists believe they have the potential to help cure a range of ills, including diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. They are already used for many therapeutic purposes, including the treatment of malignant tumors.
The Bush administration is under pressure from researchers who fear the president may end funding for research using embryonic stem cells, for ethical reasons.
Pro-life and many religious groups are firmly opposed to the harvesting of stem cells from human embryos, which are usually obtained from in-vitro fertilization "leftovers" or from aborted babies, but can also be cloned artificially in a laboratory - as recently approved by the British government.
The relative potential offered by embryonic stem cells and "adult" stem cells obtained from sources such as cord blood continue to be debated, but Dr. David Prentice, professor of life sciences at Indiana State University, says the "adult" cells are "an excellent, viable, and ethical alternative to embryonic stem cells."
Cryo-Cell, based in Clearwater, Florida, is a publicly-traded company on the Nasdaq.
It charges parents $275 for a cord blood collection kit, processing, and the first year's cryo-storage of stem cells. A further $50 annual fee is charged for continuing storage from then on, and the company says the cells are made available immediately and at no further charge as and when they may be needed.
Stem Cell Storage Offers Child Health Care 'Insurance' (Feb 28, 2001)
Adult Stem Cell Bank Offers Ethical Alternative (Jan 4, 2001)
New Research Points to Ethical Alternatives to Embryonic Cloning (Aug 4 2000)