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'Non-destructive' stem cell bill advances
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A bill promoting stem cell research is headed for the Georgia Senate floor after being “favorably reported” by the Senate Committee on Science and Technology last week.
Known as the Saving the Cure Act or Keone’s Law in reference to Keone Penn, a young man who was cured of sickle cell anemia by a stem cell treatment from a donated umbilical cord, Senate Bill 148 supports nondestructive stem cell research involving stem cells collected from materials present after live births.
“The umbilical cord, placental tissue and amniotic fluid are rich in stem cells that may be used for medical research and treatment...” Sen. David Shafer (R-Duluth), who introduced the bill in February, said in a released statement. “Unfortunately, these postnatal tissues and fluids routinely are treated as medical waste. They should be saved and not thrown away.”
Shafer’s bill will create the 15-member Georgia Commission for Saving the Cure, which will be responsible for establishing and overseeing the Georgia Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Bank.
The GNUCBB will be tasked with making postnatal tissue and fluids available for scientific research and medical treatment through partnerships with both public and private colleges and hospitals, non-profit organizations and private firms that store and collect the materials.
Any person giving birth to a child in Georgia may contribute to the bank “no later than 30 days from the commencement of the patient’s third trimester of pregnancy or at the first consultation between the attending physician or the hospital, whichever is later,” the bill reads.
Doctors and hospitals are asked to inform pregnant women of the “full range of options for donation of postnatal tissue and fluids,” but participation is strictly voluntary.
While SB 148 is similar to Shafer’s SB 596 introduced during last year’s general assembly session, which gained support from both the House and the Senate, an early argument from opponents is that the bill does not go far enough in exploring the use of stem cells by excluding embryonic stem cell research.
According to the senator, however, nondestructive stem cell research is “more effective at treating disease, without the ethical controversy” of embryonic stem cell research.
“Nondestructive stem cell research has yielded dozens of treatments and cures, compared to zero for destructive embryonic research,” Shafer said.
He noted embryonic stem cells, which are extracted in a process that destroys the developing embryo, are “difficult to control in a laboratory and often mutate into dangerous cancers.”
Despite the argument, co-sponsors of the Saving the Cure Act are confident the bill will again receive support from lawmakers.
“The ‘Saving the Cure Act’ is an important step in non-embryonic stem cell research in Georgia. This type of research has shown the promise in advancing the cause of curing diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and diabetes,” Sen. Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) said in a statement. “I am optimistic that SB 148 will gain the legislature’s approval and ultimately become law.” 
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