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Law allows medical use of stem cells from umbilical cords 

UAMS News Bureau

Gov. Mike Beebe has signed into law a measure that will allow Arkansas to begin storing and researching potentially life-saving stem cells harvested from the umbilical cords of pregnant women. The law was hailed by its sponsor and a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) physician as a method for promoting potentially life-saving treatments in Arkansas.

Sponsored by Rep. Jon Woods of Springdale, Act 659 authorizes the creation of the Arkansas Commission for the Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative, whose mission includes educating pregnant mothers and the public about the benefits of donating umbilical cord fluid. Beebe signed the bill into law on March 30, with a panel to be established in the next three months to develop plans for handling and storing the fluid.

“This will save lives in Arkansas,” Woods said. “The nearest umbilical cord blood bank is in St. Louis, and it has helped save hundreds of lives there.”

Michele Fox, M.D., a UAMS professor of pathology and director of Cell Therapy and Transfusion Medicine, assisted Woods’ effort to establish the umbilical cord blood bank and will serve as a consultant to the 11-member commission established under Act 659.

The expertise for banking stem cells in Arkansas exists only at UAMS, which has one of the largest adult stem cell transplant centers in the country.

“Passage of this law is great news for Arkansans because the healing and life-saving potential is enormous,” Fox said. “Stem cells harvested from the umbilical cord have shown tremendous promise for regenerating diseased or injured organs, including dead heart muscle, bone and spinal cord tissue.”

The stem cells could be stored for private use, such as by families with a history of cancer, Fox said. With a mother’s permission, stem cells also could be donated for research.

“Umbilical cord stem cells would be a tremendous resource for researchers in the field of regenerative medicine at UAMS,” Fox said.

The new law calls for the commission to establish a network of stem cell banks by June 30, 2008, and create a voluntary program to make the stem cells available for medical treatment and research. No funding was provided to support the collection and storage program, which will be accomplished in partnership with the state’s public or private colleges, public or private hospitals, nonprofit organizations or private firms.

Members of the commission will be appointed by the governor, the speaker of the House of Representatives and the Senate president pro tempore.

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