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Can umbilical cords help save lives?

Many say yes; regulators wary of false claims

June 12, 1996
Web posted at: 12:55 a.m. EDT

(CNN) -- Federal regulators are battling promoters of a promising new approach to treating disease. It involves saving a baby's umbilical cord blood for treating life-threatening diseases that may occur later life.

Ray and his mother

Raymond Kroupa has a rare blood disease that could be fatal. His family is banking on an experimental treatment for the 5-year-old. Raymond's sister's umbilical cord blood has been stored for a possible transplant.

"That was the way that I could help and know that there was something there for him," said Karen Kroupa, Raymond's mother. "That was the way that I could do something that I would have control over."

Some researchers believe it's possible to use umbilical cord blood to treat diseases as diverse as cancer and AIDS.

Even a tiny amount of the blood is rich in stem cells. These cells, like bone marrow, can rejuvenate the body's defenses.


Ray's father and sister

Treatment success stories have generated a tremendous amount of medical and business interest in cord-blood transplants -- and that concerns the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"We expect honesty," said the FDA's Mary Pendergast. "That means telling the donor, telling the recipient exactly what's going on, what's known, what's not known, no more false claims."

Cord-blood transplants are still largely experimental, but companies are already soliciting expectant couples, asking them to consider saving their baby's cord blood. Advocates say the federal government should let things proceed.


umbilical cord

"The whole point is to preserve options for individuals who may only have one chance to save cord blood for their family, or to donate it for the use of the public good," said Dr. Paul Billings of the International Cord Blood Foundation. "

The initial cost is around $1,500 to collect the blood and $100 a year to store it.

The procedure may or may not be covered by insurance, and the transplant may never be needed.

Paul Wolpe of the University of Pennsylvania said that the chance of needing the blood is remote unless the family is at-risk for having a child who will develop a disease.

Those promoting cord blood have petitioned the FDA to stop the proposed regulations.

The International Cord Blood Foundation's Dr. Paul Billings insists, "Any extra regulation will cause non-profit charitable foundations like my own thousands and thousands of dollars per sample to meet those regulations and will really dry up this resource."

If the FDA insists on regulating cord blood, proponents say they'll take the matter to Capitol Hill. They hope to get a law passed that would keep cord-blood banking out of the agency's reach.

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