Save a Baby's Life and Save a Second LifeBy David Prentice Senior Fellow for Life Sciences
This year we mark the 41st anniversary of the onset of tragedy; a tragedy because of the horrific loss of life, and many more lives than we realize. The legalization of abortion in the U.S. by the Roe v. Wade decision has cost over 56 million preborn babies their young lives since that fateful day in 1973.
The numbers are staggering, difficult to grasp; the U.S. has lost more lives than the population of many entire countries such as South Africa or South Korea, almost as many deaths as the entire population of Italy or the United Kingdom. But those aren’t the only lives lost or scarred as a result of abortion in the U.S. There is no accurate number of the women who lost their own lives, as well as those who have been physically and psychically scarred by abortion. The victims are often silent and unknown, but seriously harmed.
And yet the number of lives lost as a result of abortion is even more than that. Because many lives could have been saved from the delivery of those babies, by the collection and use of adult stem cells from the umbilical cords of those born babies. We could have doubled the lifesaving, by letting babies live and be born, and using their umbilical cords to save life from that life saved.
Umbilical cord blood stem cells have become an extremely valuable alternative to bone marrow adult stem cell transplants, ever since cord blood stem cells were first used for patients over 25 years ago. The first umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was performed in October 1988, for a 5-year-old child with Fanconi anemia, a serious condition where the bone marrow fails to make blood cells. That patient is currently alive and healthy, 25 years after the cord blood stem cell transplant.
Since that time, over 30,000 cord blood stem cell transplants have been done around the world, and transplants have increased for various blood and bone marrow diseases and leukemias, as well as for genetic enzymatic diseases in children. Cord blood stem cell transplants have also become more common for adults with leukemia. Cord blood transplants have been especially helpful for racial and ethnic minorities.
Bone marrow adult stem cell transplants require an exact match between donor and recipient, and it can sometimes be difficult to find a donor match for a patient, especially for minorities. But umbilical cord blood stem cells can be used with some mismatch and still provide successful treatments.
The Wall Street Journal recently noted the increased interest in umbilical cord blood by scientists and doctors seeking stem cell cures. Besides current treatments, cord blood stem cells are now being studied for their potential to treat many more diseases, including Type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, as well as congenital heart disease and cerebral palsy. The story quotes Dr. William Shearer, professor of pediatrics and immunology at Baylor College of Medicine:
"It's a disposable item that Mother Nature provides us with… It's a renewable source. It's free and why not use it?"
Since the first umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant over 25 years ago, over 600,000 cord blood units have been stored away around the globe for future lifesaving transplants. Just two examples of public programs to collect and store umbilical cord blood stem cells are the National Marrow Donor Program (motto: “You could cure someone’s blood cancer by giving birth”) and the National Cord Blood Program, and additionally there are commercial cord blood storage companies, involved in collection, storage, and research. The data so far show that cord blood stem cells can be stored frozen for over 20 years without loss of potency.
And it’s not controversial. As a recent news story in the Washington Times showed, many more states are turning to ethical, successful adult stem cells, providing real hope and real treatments for thousands of people. Kansas last year initiated a unique Midwest Stem Cell Therapy Center that will treat patients, do research on new therapies, educate the public and professionals on the advantages of adult stem cells such as those from cord blood and the solid umbilical cord, serve as a resource to process patient cells for treatment, and train physicians to deliver those treatments. Paul Wagle was appointed by Governor Brownback to represent the patient community on the new Advisory Board for the Kansas Center. Paul received an umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant for his leukemia in 2005. Partly as a result of the successful treatment, Paul developed an interest in science and earned a triple major from Benedictine College in Kansas in 2013, and is now in seminary. The Kansas Center has already treated its first patient and held its inaugural scientific conference.
Here are just a few other examples from FRC's "Adult Stem Cells Saved My Life project" of the double lifesaving from a born baby and the saved cord blood.
Mary Lou Rusco also received umbilical cord blood stem cells for her leukemia. She received the treatment from doctors at the Kansas University Medical Center, and is now free from leukemia.
Joe Davis, Jr. was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, at only a few months old. His parents were told that he wouldn’t survive to be a teenager, and they couldn’t find a bone marrow match for him. But along came younger brother Isaac, whose umbilical cord blood stem cells saved Joe Junior’s life.
Chloe Levine received an innovative cord blood stem cell transplant at Duke University to treat her cerebral palsy. She’s now a happy healthy little girl.
As our good friend Tom McClusky of the March for Life has noted, this lifesaving stem cell research strikes the right cord for life!