Good news on stem cell research

Published on October 9th, 2012

by Kathleen M. Gallagher

Kudos to Senator John DeFrancisco (R – Onondaga) for his successful efforts to bring a public umbilical cord blood bank to upstate New York. For more than six years the Senator has been working to set aside state funding, and cross the T’s and dot the I’s on the project. Finally, on September 17, 2012, the groundbreaking occurred. Hurray! Umbilical cord blood saves lives. It is rich in adult stem cells, cells which can be easily harvested and used in research and treatments. Cord blood stem cells are already being used effectively to treat various leukemias, blood disorders and immune deficiencies, and new therapies are on the horizon.

The only other public cord bank in New York State is in New York City, and it contracts only with hospitals downstate for donations of cord blood.  Thanks to Senator DeFrancisco’s dogged persistence, women who give birth in central New York will soon have a place to donate their umbilical cord, rather than having it tossed in the trash as medical waste. And families facing serious illness will have a new place to go to search for matching blood for potential transplantation. The bank is set to open in 2014.

In other stem cell news, I was delighted to see that Professor Shinya Yamanaka has received the 2012 Nobel Prize for medicine. Five years ago, Dr. Yamanaka successfully turned adult skin cells into the equivalent of embryonic stem cells in a process known as “reprogramming.” The new cells, known as “ips” cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, are now routinely used in research, without the needless destruction of innocent human embryos.

I remember reading an interview with Dr. Yamanaka back in 2007 in which he was describing the “eureka!” moment that the light bulb went off in his head.  He was in a fertility clinic, staring through a microscope at a human embryo. “When I saw the embryo,” he said, “I suddenly realized there was such a small difference between it and my daughters. I thought, we can’t keep destroying embryos for our research. There must be another way.” Indeed there is.

Bravo to these two fine pioneers in ethical research.

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