Cell diversion

"Cell diversion" Continued...

Issue: "2004 Election: Countdown," Oct. 23, 2004

Meanwhile, doctors at Duke University have successfully used stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat leukemia, sickle cell anemia, and inborn errors of metabolism like Lorenzo's Oil disease. The treatments are similar to a bone marrow transplant, said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg from Duke. The NIH abruptly cut off funding in 2001 for banking cord blood, Dr. Kurtzberg said. Since then, doctors who do such treatments have relied on private funding from sources such as the American Red Cross to keep up their cord blood supply.

Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) tried unsuccessfully last year to pass a bill to support cord blood banks. Mr. Brownback, a strong opponent of embryonic stem-cell research, asked patients who had received treatments at Duke University to testify in support of the bill.

Though Mr. Brownback and Dr. Kurtzberg disagree about whether the government should fund embryonic stem-cell research, they both agree funding is more urgently needed to bank and research cord blood. Mr. Brownback believes "funding for adult stem-cell research, which is the area with the most success and greatest potential, is being ignored by the recent discussion of embryonic stem-cell research," said Brownback spokesman Brian Hart.

Kansas researcher Kathy Mitchell said she has applied for funding and been rejected three times by NIH to further her studies. In 2000, Dr. Mitchell discovered that stem cells in umbilical cord tissue had the same clean-slate properties as those from embryos but were able to turn themselves off like adult stem cells. "My own personal bias is . . . it would be great if these work out and we don't have to use embryonic stem cells," she said.


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