Human Exceptionalism

California’s Misplaced Stem Cell Priorities

This story illustrates how politics has twisted the proper pursuit of regenerative medicine in California. During the last six years or so, the legislature went GA-GA over ESCR and human cloning. It passed a state law explicitly permitting human cloning research. And then, under a $35 million propaganda barrage, state voters agreed to an initiative (Proposition 71) that created a constitutional amendment to permit human cloning research and to fund SCNT and ESCR to the tune of $3 billion over ten years using borrowed money–meaning the actual cost will be about $7 billion. And all to pursue utterly unproven and ethically contentious approaches to regenerative medicine–and to supposedly “defy Bush,” even though Bush has done nothing to prevent state jurisdictions from funding whatever they want.

And yet, the legislature is only now getting around to creating an umbilical cord blood banking policy! From the story in today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

For a decade, state Sen. Carole Migden quietly battled a death sentence –an unusual form of leukemia. Now cancer-free, she wants to create a state system to collect and store umbilical cord blood, which shows enormous promise as a treatment for leukemia and other diseases…
While the number of cord blood transplants nationally is growing but still relatively small, the curative powers of a newborn’s umbilical stem cells remain widely untapped. According to mounting research, cord blood–which contains a cache of immature but highly adaptive cells– holds remarkable healing potential for as many as 70 blood diseases, including leukemia and sickle cell anemia.

Well, where in the heck have these people been all these years? The power of UCB stem cells is nothing new. The need to ease stem cell banking has been well known for a long time. Moreover, unmentioned in the story is that the dreaded President Bush vigorously promoted–and in Congress finally passed a UCB banking bill almost two years go, which was unconscionably held up by some Democrats as a wedge to promote ESCR. Indeed, as I wrote in the Weekly Standard in the December 12, 2005 issue, the national law:

The Bone Marrow and Cord Blood Therapy and Research Act of 2005 (S. 1317) would [and did] create a national UCB distribution system supported by about $175 million over five years. Among its provisions, the measure would:

*establish a system of publicly funded UBC banking, allowing parents to donate cord blood at no cost;

* dramatically increase the genetic diversity of stored UCB stem cells, so the banked stem cells will have sufficient genetic diversity to assure potential patients of obtaining a good match and avoiding tissue rejection;

* provide sufficient funds to ensure quality control of the banked stem cells;

* create a clearinghouse for information sharing and sample exchanges among regional storage facilities, so a California patient could obtain stem cells from, say, Missouri, if the latter sample is the best genetic match.

So, this is, at best, a case of better late than never. Rather than puff the California legislatures reasons for pushing this utterly uncontroversial bill, perhaps some intrepid reporter will write a story about out how far behind the wave this state really is, in large part due to misplaced political zeal. That would tell the whole story.