The US federal government would more than triple its designated funding for research and treatment with stem cells taken from umbilical cords under a spending bill passed by the House of Representatives last week.

The House voted 276-140 in favour of the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008 (H.R. 3043). It includes an allocation of US$15 million to the National Cord Blood Inventory for the 2008 fiscal year. The spending bill now goes to the Senate.

Originally H.R. 3043 had allotted only US$4 million to the NCBI for FY08, far short of the US$15 million authorised by the Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005. The author of that legislation, Republican Representative Chris Smith (New Jersey), teamed up with Democrat Arthur Davis (Alabama) to push through an amendment stipulating that an additional US$11 million of the non-specific allocations to the Health Research and Service Administration must be used to fund the NCBI.

Without the amendment, Smith said, current grant recipients would be forced to scale back “dramatically” their cord-blood banking initiatives “just as they’re ramping up to treat more patients”. With the full US$15 million allocation, cord collection could be tripled this year, he added. According to Smith, in the last two years alone some 8,000 patients have received cord blood treatments for more than 70 diseases, including leukaemia, sickle cell anaemia and Hurler syndrome.

The Stem Cell Therapeutic and Research Act of 2005 authorised US$265 million in total for the collection of umbilical cord blood and storage, as well as the re-authorisation of the National Bone Marrow Registry. It created the NCBI, the first national inventory to collect the necessary units of blood and make them readily available.

Emphasis on genetic diversity to meet needs

The Act calls for the collection of 150,000 units of cord blood for the NCBI, with an emphasis on genetic diversity that is expected to meet the needs of 90% of patients. It also requires any units of cord blood collected and deemed unsuitable for transplantation to be donated for additional cord-blood stem cell research.

As with other sources of adult stem cells, this has avoided the ethical objections that recently saw President George W. Bush again veto a bill to ease the current tight restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research using discarded human embryos. “Unlike embryonic stem cell research – which to date has yet to produce any cures or treatments – cord blood and other adult stem cell research already have resulted in clinical treatments without requiring the destruction of human life,” Smith’s office commented.