Allendale Site Supports Adult Stem-Cell Research
Dr. Dennis Todd, president and chief executive officer of Community Blood Services, which runs the New Jersey Cord Blood Bank (NJCBB) in Allendale, is seeking muchneeded grant money to keep the program running. Visit the group's Web site (www.communitybloodservices.org) for more information on the cord-blood donation program.
"If we can't locate funding soon, the program is at risk of going away. That would be a sad thing for the people of New Jersey," Susan Mysliwiec, assistant vice president of recruitment, said.
Community Blood Services, a not-for-profit organization that supplies blood and blood products to more than 30 hospitals in the New York/New Jersey area, runs NJCBB. In 2005, Community Blood Services' cord-blood program was designated as an official partner with the Camdenbased Coriell Institute for Medical Research and was responsible for cord-blood collections in the northern part of the state.
The Elie Katz Umbilical Cord Blood Program, a private family bank in Allendale, and a public bank, also located in Camden, are the collection sites (see The Catholic Advocate, March 21, 2007). The program was awarded $350,000 by the state for the collection of 10,000 units of cord blood material.
The Catholic Church opposes embryonic stem-cell research, which results in the destruction and/or cloning of a four to five-day-old human embryo. However, "adult" stem cells collected from placenta blood and the umbilical cord of a newborn do no harm to embryos and can be used to find cures and treatments for illnesses such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, spinal cord injuries and lupus. As such, the Church is a strong supporter of adult stem-cell research.
The Princeton-based Catholic HealthCare Partnership of New Jersey (CHCPNJ), led by Father Joseph Kukura, launched an initiative in 2006 to encourage the state's Catholic hospitals to donate to the cord-blood bank (see The Catholic Advocate, June 7, 2006). The initiative emphasized collecting cord and placenta blood from minorities, which was especially needed.
Last year, Community Blood Services took over all operations of NJCBB. "Coriell Institute wanted to concentrate on research and said cord blood collection and testing was not their competency," Dr. Dennis M. Todd, president and chief executive officer of Community Blood Services, said.
Funded by revenues from private donations and contracts with hospitals, NJCBB was expected to receive $10 million from a bill passed in 2006. The state assembly passed legislation authorizing $270 million worth of bonds for stem-cell research projects, highlighted by the construction of the state's first stem-cell research centers in New Brunswick, Newark and Camden. The cord-blood program has yet to receive any money from that stem-cell bill.
"Our situation is becoming a real financial difficulty. We are about $600,000 in the negative. The program is forced to streamline resources and pull back on collections. We cannot facilitate hospital agreements. Hopefully, this is a temporary setback, but I am very worried," Mysliwiec said.
NJCBB has doubled its collections from last year and in total, has 6,000 units so far between the Allendale and Camden facilities. Due to the NJ Catholic hospitals initiative, donations by minority populations have also increased, which leads to more financial strain. "Collecting and testing umbilical cord and placenta blood units is expensive. We have to cap collections this year, which could be difficult because we have a relationship with these hospitals," Mysliwiec explained.
Todd is applying for grants around $5 million for the next five years that would keep the program in the clear. Fundraisers, that include an annual gala and sports night with guest speakers, bring in money that goes toward the cord-blood program. "The program is costing $2.5 million a year to run. It costs $1,000 for each unit we collect," Todd said.
Although there are financial struggles for the cordblood program, research and testing of the material continues to make strides in medicine. "Cord blood is used to treat diseases such as leukemia and the medical community is looking into diabetes, sickle cell, and cerebral palsy treatment in the near future," Mysliwiec stated. The material collected by the NJCBB is processed in Allendale and Camden and shipped all over the world to help those in need.
"The NJCBB has had 155 successful transplants and 50 percent of these transplants were given to children," according to Mysliwiec, adding there are many more medical breakthroughs to come. "We have achieved great things but we are stuck in hold until we get more funding," she said.