Joseph Rosenthal, M.D., director of pediatric bone marrow transplantation at City of Hope, recently testified before the State Assembly Health Committee to support a bill requiring California to harvest and store umbilical cord blood for public use.
Authored by local Assemblymember Anthony Portantino, AB 34 aims to tap into the state’s diverse population to make hematopoietic stem cells collected from umbilical cord blood more widely available for transplant patients.
“This effort lays the ground work for the active collection and storage of a diverse supply of umbilical cord blood for use in transplantation and research,” said Rosenthal, associate professor of pediatrics. “We stand to save more lives, especially in times of great need and for patients who have difficulty finding matching donors.”
Physicians transplant hematopoietic stem cells — cells responsible for forming mature blood cells of all types that usually reside in bone marrow — to treat a variety of cancers of the blood. Even though siblings with matching tissue types represent the best sources of these cells, only
25 percent of patients will have tissue-matched siblings. The most widely used alternative to bone marrow for stem cell collection is umbilical cord blood; and cord blood is more likely than bone marrow to yield unrelated matches.
Portantino’s push to collect cells from umbilical cords — which previously were discarded as medical waste — started in 1996 when a neighbor’s 6-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. A bone marrow match was not available. However, the boy received cells from donated cord blood, which saved his life. The experience left Portantino with a strong motivation to donate the cord blood from his child’s birth five years later — but he was literally left holding the bag.
Only two hospitals in California collect umbilical cord blood for public use, Portantino explained. When he asked for the cord blood to be donated, he was politely handed a bag with the cord blood to donate as he pleased. Undiscouraged, he decided to find a way to make donating easier, and collection and storage a greater priority for the state.
Testifying as an expert for the first time ever before a legislative body in the state Capitol, Rosenthal provided essential information to state lawmakers to underscore the medical necessity of proposed policies. In addition to testifying, Rosenthal also reviewed the legislation and made suggestions to strengthen it.
“For thousands of years we’ve tossed cord blood away,” explained Rosenthal. “The assemblymember understands that from this point on, we can’t afford to be so careless.
“I’m excited to do my part for such a forward-thinking piece of public policy.”