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April 21, 2009

It’s ironic that the United Kingdom, one of the countries on the forefront of new biomedical research, (including embryo-destructive stem cell research), has no organized system for utilizing one of the best sources of stems cells: umbilical cord blood.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, the wife of Britain’s Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, found this out in February when trying to donate their son’s umbilical cord blood to a national tissue bank. Only a few public hospitals in Britain are capable of collecting cord blood, and a vast array of bureaucratic and monetary hurdles prevent potential donors from being able to give.

Cord blood stem cells, taken from the discarded placenta and umbilical cord after birth, have already demonstrated enormous potential in helping patients with diseases, including cancer, leukemia, and cerebral palsy. Best of all, these stem cells are readily available, and the are no moral or ethical dilemmas associated with their use. In spite of these attractive qualities, relatively few parents in the U.S. or the U.K. know about the life-saving potential found in their baby’s discarded umbilical cord, or of the options they may have to donate the cord blood for medical research and treatment.

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez was told by officials that donation of her son’s umbilical cord blood was “impossible.” She is now trying to raise awareness of cord blood donation in Britain, urging the British government to expand the capacity of the national blood bank to collect cord blood for treatment and research.

Americans should follow Durantez’s example, and educate the U.S. public about the amazing potential of cord blood stem cells to treat human disease. As demand for umbilical cord blood grows, so will the agencies that can accept and utilize cord blood donations. Human flourishing may be improved on both sides of the Atlantic, in an ethically responsible manner.

Article in The Independent

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