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SUNY Upstate to partner in cord blood science center

Governor George E. Pataki today announced $10 million in funding to establish the New York State Cord Blood Science Institute in Syracuse, a collaborative effort between the State Department of Health, its Wadsworth Center laboratories, SUNY Upstate Medical University and the New York State Blood and Tissue Council.

"The Institute will develop a program to facilitate the donation of potentially life-saving stem cells from umbilical cords," Governor Pataki said. "These stem cells have been shown to have potential for the treatment of a variety of blood and immune-system related diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and Krabbes Disease. This cord blood bank will also dramatically increase the potential for cord blood transplants.

"The Cord Blood Science Institute will maintain New York's national leadership in advancing biotechnology and medical science and ultimately, we expect, result in lifesaving treatments for a variety of debilitating and potentially deadly diseases. I am thrilled that this umbilical cord blood bank will be one of the largest and most diverse of its kind in the nation," the Governor added.

The program would collect, type, test, store and distribute for research treatment cells derived from umbilical cord blood collections, which until now has generally been routinely discarded as medical waste. While some other small public umbilical cord blood banks exist in the New York City area using federal funding, the Syracuse facility would be one of the largest of its type in the nation, with construction potentially starting as early as mid-2007, and would be the first in New York to be constructed using State funding.

Umbilical cord blood, like bone marrow, has been shown to be a valuable source of hematopoietic (blood-forming) cells and can be used in treatment of a variety of conditions. However, its use is much more flexible than bone marrow in matching donors and recipients, avoiding possible rejection issues and making donor matches much easier. In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the need for umbilical cord blood for clinical use. Cord blood stem cells do not involve the use of embryonic stem cells but are rather considered to be in the same category as adult stem cells.

Congressman Jim Walsh said, "Stem cell research involving cord blood shows great promise. That's why I was proud to co-sponsor federal legislation to create a national cord blood stem cell bank network for research and treatment activities. Today's announcement establishes Syracuse as a leader for efforts in New York State."

State Senator John A. DeFrancisco said, "I spearheaded the efforts to have this lifesaving facility located in Syracuse and I am ecstatic that Central New York will be home to a center that will promote the use of umbilical cord blood for research and the treatment of illness. This is an incredible opportunity for Central New York and for those whose lives will be spared through such a facility. Across the country, cord blood stem cells have been used in treating many illnesses including leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes, lymphomas, inherited red cell abnormalities and other cancers. Now, doctors in our community will be able to use the umbilical cord, and its stem cells, that would otherwise be discarded, for valuable research, and, in some cases, transplants."

Assemblyman Jeff Brown said, "This announcement is a tremendous boost for Central New Yorkers working hard to strengthen our economy and improve our growing reputation as a leader in advanced, life-saving technologies."

New York State Health Commissioner Antonia C. Novello, M.D., M.P.H., Dr.P.H. said, "We are proud to be part of this effort which has the potential to save many lives. The sky is the limit on this type of research. Recently in England, for instance, a team of British scientists grew an artificial liver using stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood."

David R. Smith, President SUNY Upstate Medical University said, "We appreciate Governor Pataki and Senator DeFrancisco for this investment in our community. This facility, and the work that will go on in the facility, will bring hope to thousands of families who are afflicted with numerous devastating diseases. We also look forward to the collaboration between the public and private sector that will make this a successful venture."

The New York State Department of Health currently operates the most comprehensive infant disease and disorder detection screening program in the nation. The establishment of a public cord blood program will complement and advance the goals of the Newborn Screening Program.

At Governor Pataki's direction, the Department of Health invited several experts and consultants to develop a strategic plan for the creation of the cord blood program. The $10 million in State funding will be used for acquisition, site planning, design and construction.

Governor Pataki pointed out that because of the diversity of New York's population, this public cord blood bank will become a much-needed resource for minorities in need of therapeutic transplants and for studying certain inherited diseases such as sickle cell anemia, which can occur more frequently in minority populations.

For several years some private blood banks have offered cord blood banking at the donors' expense, with use of the blood limited to future use by the donor's immediate family. Such a strictly limited system resulted in very few therapeutic cord blood transplants.