Senate committee last week approved a bill that would establish a public network of human umbilical cord blood stem cell banks. The legislation moves one step closer to law an effort that Kurtzberg says is vital to helping the public gain access to an important medical procedure.

“This important legislation will give us new tools to treat and prevent a wide range of diseases, especially those that affect children,” Burr said after learning of the committee’s approval. “I’m proud that many of the developments in cord blood transplants have taken place in North Carolina. The work done at Duke University Medical Center will benefit patients throughout the state and the nation.”

Joanne Kurtzberg, a doctor who has performed more than 600 cord blood transplants during her career and has been with the legislation from the beginning, said it was important to create a single registry for all unrelated cord blood donors because, that way, people needing a transplant would have an easier time finding a matching donor.

Cord blood stem cells differ from the more controversial embryonic stem cells because they are considered fully mature and have little chance of transforming into anything other than another type of blood cell, UNC researcher Jonathon Serody said.

“Embryonic stem cells are very plastic and, by and large, can be manufactured to become almost any kind of cell,” he said. “For that reason, there’s been more enthusiasm in the scientific community to evaluate the potential of these embryonic cells, which could be used to create a new pancreas for someone with diabetes, for example.”

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