A long struggle came to a positive end when Gov. Brad Henry signed House Bill 3060, a measure creating a public umbilical cord blood bank in Oklahoma.
The new law, by Senator Jay Paul Gumm and Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, establishes the public cord blood bank, eventually giving every Oklahoma family the ability to donate umbilical cord blood. The pair of lawmakers has sponsored the measure for several years, finally securing passage over a number of obstacles this year.
“A cord blood bank will make possible the next great steps forward in medical care,” said Gumm, a Democrat from Durant. “This new law eventually will give every Oklahoma family a chance to protect and save lives. Donors also will expand the genetic diversity in existing cord blood banks, which will open the doors to even more families facing life-threatening illnesses.”
The bill directs the state Health Department to create the cord blood bank, subject to private and public funding. Banking would be free to Oklahoma families choosing to use the bank. Also, the bill requires doctors and hospitals treating pregnant women to educate their patients about cord blood banking, storage and usage.
The law also directs the state Commissioner of Health to investigate whether partnering with existing public cord blood banks would be more cost effective. The health commissioner is required to report findings to the Legislature before the 2009 session begins.
Currently, the only option to store cord blood Oklahoma families have is to contract with private umbilical cord blood banks. That cost is several thousands of dollars upfront, and hundreds annually in storage costs. The costs, Gumm said, are cost prohibitive for most young families starting out with a new baby.
Umbilical cord blood – now most often discarded as medical waste – is rich in adult stem cells, which can be used to treat a variety of illnesses. Among the maladies currently being treated with cord blood therapy are many cancers, leukemia, and several immune disorders; researchers say the list of maladies treatable with cord blood will only expand.
Creation of the Oklahoma cord blood bank comes at an exciting time of research, Gumm said. “Recently, the many network morning shows reported the story of a two-year-old boy with cerebral palsy,” he related.
“After an infusion of his own stem cells during a clinical trial at Duke University, he is now showing fewer signs of the disorder; his parents had banked his umbilical cord blood. With enactment of HB 3060, the means is now in place to allow Oklahoma families the same opportunity.”
Rep. Rebecca Hamilton, D-Oklahoma City, said the creation of a cord blank bank could especially benefit ethnic groups that have fewer cord blood samples banked, making genetic matches more difficult.
“This bill will save lives,” she said. “A cord blood bank will allow Oklahoma to lead the way in ethical stem-cell research, collecting adult stem cells from the creation of life, rather than the destruction of life.”
Gumm said passage of the measure represents an investment in life. “I believe history will show this will be one of the most important bills ever passed by the Oklahoma Legislature, he concluded. “This plan will leave a legacy of better health in Oklahoma, for the current generation and those yet unborn.”