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Unlocking the lifesaving potential of cord blood

Following last week’s meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Stem Cell Transplantation, co-chair David Burrowes MP made the case for more medical research to unlock the lifesaving potential of umbilical cord blood. This guest blog sets out his thinking.

It is not only Government which is thinking about the next 5 years. Over 11,000 people with blood cancer or a blood disorder will need a curative stem cell transplant. Of these, 1 in 8 people will not receive the lifesaving transplant they need because either there is no donor available for them, or because a donor cannot be found quickly enough.

It is against this backdrop that the APPG on Stem Cell Transplantation met last week. It offered a good opportunity to reflect on what the group has achieved in the years since it was first formed and to re-focus on the months and years ahead.

One of the key achievements of the group has been to make the case for ongoing government support for umbilical cord blood collection. In March this year, the group published a report assessing the progress that has been made in this area over the last three years.

Cord blood and the work of the APPG on Stem Cell Transplantation

Cord blood, which remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after a baby is born, is rich in stem cells which can be used to cure a broad range of life-threatening diseases. Its importance as a source of stem cells for blood cancer patients in need of a lifesaving transplant has been recognised by the Department of Health and the continuity of government funding has been vital in ensuring long-term improvements to the supply of cord blood donations.

Since we published our report in 2012, cord banking rates have tripled, the cost of transplants to the NHS has decreased dramatically and more patients from black, Asian and minority backgrounds are able to find a donor. This is largely thanks to the increased availability of cord blood.

But, unsurprisingly, there is more to do. As Anthony Nolan has argued, medical research is key to improving the outcomes of patients who receive stem cell transplants.

This is an area which the APPG has considered in detail and it is clear to me that medical research is critical to unlocking the considerable potential of cord blood to save lives. Unfortunately, progress in this area has been lacking.

David Burrowes with our CEO Henny Braund

At last week’s meeting of the APPG, Anthony Nolan launched the new ‘Destination: Cure’ report, which calls for a national stem cell transplantation trials network to be established. This would be an important move.

Not only would it facilitate and promote high-quality research into cord blood as a curative therapy for patients, but it would also support the Government’s commitment to advancing the life sciences sector.

The new Parliament is an opportunity for the APPG on Stem Cell Transplantation to re-double its efforts to make the case for policy changes which benefit every patient in need of a transplant. I invite my colleagues in both the Commons and the Lords to work with the APPG to ensure that we continue to make progress in this very important area.

David Burrowes MP Co- Chair of the Stem Cell Transplantation APPG

Archived Stem cell donation