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Remarks by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) in Favor of Smith Stem Cell Therapeutic Research Act of 2005: Statement in Support of HR 2520

Location: Washington, DC

Remarks by Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04) in Favor of Smith Stem Cell Therapeutic Research Act of 2005
Statement in Support of HR 2520

One of the best kept secrets in America today is that umbilical cord blood stem cells and adult stem cells are curing people of a myriad of terrible conditions and diseases.

One of the greatest hopes that I have is that these current day miracles, denied to many because of an insufficient inventory and inefficient means of matching cord blood stem cells with patients, will now become available to tens of thousands of patients as a direct result of the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005, HR. 2520.

Amazingly, we are on the threshold of systematically turning medical waste—umbilical cords and placentas—into medical miracles for huge numbers of very sick and terminally ill patients, who suffer from such maladies as leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

And because this legislation promotes cord blood research as well, we can expect new and expanded uses of these versatile stem cells.

For the first time ever, my bill establishes a nationwide stem cell transplantation system. It also reauthorizes the national bone marrow transplant system and combines both systems under a new program to provide an easy, single access point for information for doctors and patients, and for the purpose of collecting and analyzing outcomes data. The new program created in my legislation is named for our colleague Bill Young because of all his great work on bone marrow transplantation over the last two decades.

Cord Blood Stem Cells are already treating patients. The New York Blood Center alone has treated thousands of patients with more than 65 diseases including Sickle Cell Disease, Leukemia, and Osteopetrosis. Some of those patients came and told their stories yesterday at a press conference and are in the gallery watching this debate right now. One woman in Korea who had been paralyzed for 19 years took steps in front of news cameras after her first cord blood treatment a few months ago. Cord blood has also been used to treat Hurler's disease and Krabbe's (kray-bee's) disease, both neurological conditions, which blows away this idea that cord blood stem cells are limited in the potential and the capacity to turn into other types of cells.

That is not too surprising when you simply read the published literature on the flexibility of cord blood stem cells. According to a July 2004 study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine a research group led by Dr. Kogler found what they called "A new human somatic stem cell from placental cord blood with intrinsic pluripotenet differentiation potential", which means it can become any type of cell in the body. In addition, they found that the cells could expand to 10 quadrillion, 10 to the power of 15, cells before losing any pluripotent abilities.

And cord blood stem cells are not only ahead in treating real human patients, they are also able to turn into different cell types for research. One company has already turned cord blood stem cells into tissues representative of the three germinal layers, including neural stem cells, nerve cells, liver/pancreas precursors, skeletal muscle, fat cells, bone cells, and blood vessels.

Last month, Celgene Corporation announced that these stem cells "are ‘pluripotent', or have the ability to become different types of tissue." They went on to say these cells had "turned them into nerve, blood, cartilage, skin and muscle cells. . ."

This idea that research on bone marrow and cord blood stem cells have been researched on for decades and embryo stem cells have only been researched for a short time is a ludicrous and unfair attack on cord blood stem cell research. During the entire period where research has been happening on this idea of regenerative medicine, the idea that cells can change types and repair organs, both adult and embryo stem cells have been around in animals. Not only that, but because embryo stem cells were found in animals so long ago, all that embryo stem cell research has been federally funded with no restrictions. They can't hang the failures of their animal embryo stem cell research on an excuse of having no funding or not having as much time as adult stem cell research and they should not try to denigrate cord blood research with false timeline comparisons.

I have been disappointed to see some of my colleagues denigrate the potential of cord blood stem cells, and other sources of stem cells not from embryos. This fixation with destroying human embryos and downplaying all other research is not accurate and it is damaging. One grant reviewer at the National Institutes of Health summed up this bias nicely when he denigrated a cord blood stem cell research application by writing, "We already have a good source of stem cells [from embryos.] Why do we need another?" The answer is because it works, it has incredible promise and it is an ethical source of stem cells-that is something we need to work hard to obtain, and this bill is one part of that.

In closing I want to especially thank Congressman Artur Davis, the primary cosponsor of our legislation for the last three years, for his work on this important topic and for sticking with it. In promoting this idea of a national network of cord blood banks, we have all learned how important cord blood transplant availability is to the African American community, specifically in the area of sickle cell disease which adversely affects one out of every 500 African Americans.

I also want to thank Chairman Joe Barton and his staff for working hard to craft this measure and to the Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, for his crucial help in moving this bill to the floor.

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