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A bill that will ensure the storing of an additional 1,000 units of umbilical cord blood a year in public cord-blood banks to serve potentially as treatment for cancer victims was approved Monday by the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee for its second and third readings in the plenum.
The private member's bill, initiated by MK Moshe Kahlon, ensures that people who need precious stem cells to cure certain types of cancers will receive them. Private banks store umbilical-cord blood only for those who pay thousands of shekels for the privilege and provide the stem cells solely to those "subscribers." The cord-blood units in the public hospitals will be donated by new mothers from their newborn's expelled umbilical cord and stored for many years in freezers.
The bill allows private cord-blood banks, which take steep fees for storing blood for one's own use, to continue to exist - but under strict Health Ministry supervision and standards. The public banks, if the bill is passed, will be funded by the Treasury and retain units according to the ethnic and other characteristics in the general population. Such a law would save the lives of thousands of helpless patients who cannot get a compatible bone marrow transplant from a close relative, said Kahlon. It would be especially beneficial to members of minorities, such as Jews of Yemenite, Sephardi and Ethiopian origin, Arabs and Druse, who cannot easily find suitable bone marrow donations.
So far, some 17,000 transplants of stem cells from umbilical cord blood have been performed around the world. It can now help patients who have leukemia, but in the future, doctors hope it can treat other diseases as well.