SPRINGFIELD - Women about to give birth in Illinois hospitals would be offered a chance to donate their umbilical cord blood for transplant, under a bill awaiting Gov. Rod Blagojevich's signature.
The stem cells in the blood can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants to treat a variety of cancer and blood diseases.
It is a fairly new procedure, but cord blood seems to result in fewer complications and be easier to match between donor and recipient, said Helen Ng of the National Marrow Donor Program.
State Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, called the bill "a great example of innovation and creativity in medicine."
"Currently, cord blood is treated as medical waste," he said. "Rather than throw it away, this blood can be collected after birth at no risk or expense to the baby and mother and used for bone marrow transplants that would normally take far longer to find a donor match."
The bill, which passed unanimously in the House and Senate, would require all licensed hospitals in Illinois to offer pregnant patients the opportunity to donate umbilical cord blood.
Currently, only 13 hospitals in Illinois choose to provide that option. The nearest participating hospital is Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center in Mattoon, according to the National Marrow Donor Program Web site at www.marrow.org .
Generally, the donation is safe and painless, but the legislation provides exemptions if the collection would threaten the health of the mother or child or if the hospital or hospital employee has a religious objection to the blood transfer.
The stem cells from umbilical cord blood are not the same as embryonic stem cells because they require a live birth, whereas embryonic stem cells come from aborted fetuses and leftover, donated embryos, according to a statement from Gloria Ochoa, president and executive director of the Cord Blood Donor Foundation.
"What we know for sure is that umbilical cord blood stem cells do not present the same ethical or moral issues as embryonic stem cells, and most agree that these stem cells are the closest to embryonic stem cells that are safely available for research and treating diseases," Ochoa said.
In the donation process, the blood is usually extracted from the umbilical cord shortly after the baby is born and the cord is clamped.
The fluid is then processed and tested before being frozen and stored at a publicly accessible certified cord blood bank, where it can be matched with a recipient.
"This is an emerging trend," Ng said. "More states are trying to work to make cord blood more accessible."
Among them are Texas, Massachusetts, Florida and Indiana, she said.
Public cord-blood donation, which the Illinois bill encourages, is different from private collection, where a parent chooses to pay for storage of cord blood for possible future use for the child or a family member.
Public donation does not give the parent any decision in who gets the blood later, and donors and recipients are kept confidential.
There is no cost to the parent for public donation.
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