On Tuesday David Burrowes MP presented a Ten Minute Rule Bill that encourages the donation of umbilical cord blood and for it to be stored for public use: "The purpose of the Bill is to increase the awareness of the value of umbilical cord blood for the treatment of diseases and for further research of new treatment methods using cord blood stem cells. The Bill will require doctors to inform all parents of the benefits of collection and storage of cord blood and to presume consent for collection from families with a history of cord blood treatable diseases."
His speech is reproduced below:
With 6 children I should be declaring an interest in the subject of this Bill- the donation of umbilical cord blood. Living in my constituency of Enfield Southgate adjacent to Barnet General Hospital, which is one of only 4 NHS Hospitals which collects umbilical cord blood, there would seem to be good reason for developing an interest. However we have not donated umbilical cord blood despite 6 opportunities and a nearby hospital to do so. Like most parents throughout the UK we were not informed about the value of umbilical cord blood and the possibility of collection. Until recently I did not consider the umbilical cord, once clamped after birth, as anything more than a waste product.
The first purpose of this Bill and the opportunity of speaking about donating umbilical cord blood is to encourage parents and the wider public to be more informed about the value and benefits of umbilical cord blood.
Hon Members may be ignorant like I was of the nature of cord blood. The baby’s blood in the cord contains different types of cells including stem cells. Cord blood has been used for the last 20 years for blood transplantation. It has treated patients with leukaemia, sickle cell diseases, immune deficiencies and other diseases with 85 different treatments to date. There are possible treatments in the pipeline outside of blood therapy. Trials for the use of cord blood in brain injury in children are underway and cord blood is being developed for many other therapies including Diabetes and Liver Therapy.
Treatment for leukaemia highlights the value of cord blood transplants which can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants. Such cord blood transplants are less complicated, with fewer delays and are more readily available, being able to be stored and frozen for years. Significantly it is easier to find a match from stem cells than from bone marrow. Umbilical cord blood leads to increased access to transplantation, particularly for patients from ethnic minorities.
The reality is that umbilical cord blood which is thrown away routinely after birth has a life saving value.
Becki Josiah has contacted me after her daughter Billie died from
leukaemia in April 2006. She was ill for 2 years and awaiting a bone
marrow transplant. A major difficulty for the Josiah family was their
daughter’s mixed race background.
As Mrs Josiah said to me “Mixed race individuals have a much lower
chance of receiving a match in bone marrow donations and cord blood
donation gives them another vital chance at a cure.”
This Bill attempts to increase the chances for families like the
Josiah’s of a cure. The current limitations on donation have also been
highlighted to me by Mrs Josiah. She has recently had another baby but
whilst she was pregnant she wanted to be ensure the donation of her new
born baby’s cord blood to help cure another child with leukaemia like
her daughter. However her family does not live near one of the four NHS
Hospitals with facilities to accept her donation. It was not possible
for the blood to “go to another family to help spare them the agony of
losing someone they love”. Cord blood has successfully treated patients
via their own blood, sibling related or another unrelated patient.
We must find a way of enabling more patients to access this source of treatment and my Bill takes some steps in this direction.
My interest in Umbilical Cord blood arose from scrutiny of the Draft
Human Tissue and Embryo Bill as a member of the Joint Committee. Our
remit was focussed on the Government’s approach which is to ensure that
the UK is at the forefront of scientific development in embryonic stem
cell research. A majority of public money supports embryonic related
research compared to other stem cell sources. This House will have the
opportunity soon within the Human Fertilization and Embryology Bill to
debate whether it is wise to move into the realms of inter species
research to deal with the limited number of embryonic stem cell lines.
As well as political hurdles there are ethical and biological hurdles
in the way of the Government marching us up to the top of the hill of
It is therefore timely to consider an alternative hill of stem cell
research. The terrain is the same – wanting the UK to be at the
forefront of bringing stem cell therapies, regenerative medicine, to
the clinic in order to relieve suffering and reduce healthcare costs.
The focus though with the help of this Bill would be on cord blood stem
cell therapy which already results in treatment of diseases. Research
in this field holds out an exciting future. Notably, Professor Colin
McGuckin has led a team in Newcastle to be the first in the world to
characterise human embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
The question that this Bill raises is why are we routinely disregarding
the proven life saving value of umbilical cord blood but legislating
and investing predominantly in the unproven and ethically challenging
route of embryonic research.
Given that in the foreseeable future we will depend on non embryonic
stem cell therapies, why are we putting literally most of our eggs in
There are supporters of this Bill who are not necessarily opposed to
embryo research but recognise the value of umbilical cord blood and its
availability in large numbers. The Bill would make it a universal
requirement for doctors to inform pregnant women of the benefits of
collection and storage of cord blood.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise that if
there is a known genetic condition in a family or already a child with
leukaemia or a blood related disorder a clinician may recommend that
parents bank their baby’s cord blood. My Bill would presume that
collection takes place in such circumstances unless parents opt out or
medical reasons prevent it. If nothing is done in this area some
private banks will exploit families’ fears.
The practical problem facing any future extension of donation of cord
blood is the limited number of NHS maternity units equipped for
collection and storage. The NHS cord blood bank at Edgware restricts
its collections to Barnet General, Northwick Park Luton and Dunstable
and Watford Hospitals which are the only dedicated units in England.
The collection sites do not form a planned approach to collection of
cord blood and we are presently missing or more likely wasting the
opportunity presented by umbilical cord blood. This Bill seeks to
promote the collection of cord blood from specific shortage groups,
particularly ethnic minority groups and mixed race families. The UK
Thalassaemia Society, which has its base in Southgate in my
constituency, recognises this particular point in its support of my
Bill as does the UK Leukaemia Society.
They have highlighted to me the difficulties for leukaemia patients of
Cypriot origin finding appropriate bone marrow matches and support the
proposed extension of cord blood donation..
The purposes of this Bill are not wholly dependent upon legislation.
The Anthony Nolan Trust, which also supports the Bill’s aim to promote
the benefits of cord blood collection, is currently setting up the
first Charitable Cord Bank in the UK and plans to promote opportunities
for more cord donation. The hope is that 6 maternity units will
facilitate collection. The aim is to harvest 12,500 cords within 5
years for clinical and research use.
This Bill seeks to raise our sights higher given the value of cord
blood treating 85 diseases. It also seeks to rebalance the debate on
stem cell therapy which can often be more led by media proxy and hype
than the ability to realistically treat patients.
The Bill therefore supports an ethical and convenient alternative to
embryonic sources of stem cells. Finally the Bill supports parents who
are desperately waiting for treatment for their children with diseases
like leukaemia. The last words I leave to Becki Josiah who says “I find
it obscene that I could go into Selfridges tomorrow and buy a jar of
face cream containing placenta but I cannot find anyone willing to
collect and store the precious resource that is cord blood. Is there
anything you can do to help me?”