Monday, September 24, 2007

"Make Common Cause with Cord-Blood Bank"

The following op-ed piece was written for the Omaha World-Herald by Dr. Cam Enarson, vice president for health sciences at Creighton University and dean of the university’s School of Medicine.

"Make Common Cause with Cord-Blood Bank"

The pursuit of scientific truth has thrived for more than a century at Creighton Univer­sity -- home to schools of dentistry, medicine and nursing and the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. Yet the pursuit of scientific knowledge to improve health can lead to difficult moral and ethical issues. As a Jesuit, Catholic university, Creighton is called upon to provide leadership in ensuring that ethical guidelines and Catholic direc­tives play as prominent a role as scientific rigor in research and health care.

Such an issue surrounds human stem-cell research, particularly the use of embryonic stem cells. This coming Thursday evening, Creighton Univer­sity’s Center for Health Policy & Ethics will host a community forum on stem-cell research to help educate the public ab
out the Catholic view on this subject. *(See note below)*

First, to talk about stem cells, one needs to understand what stem cells are and distinguish between the various types. Stem cells are different from other cells in the body, because they can continue to divide throughout life and grow into other types of cells, replacing ones that die or are lost. This makes them an exciting, potential source for future disease prevention and treatment for everything from multiple sclerosis to Parkinson’s disease.

Embryonic stem cells, as their name suggests, are derived from embryos. Catholic teaching holds that human life begins with conception; therefore, it is morally illicit to conduct any research on stem cells obtained from the direct destruction of embryos or fetuses.

We teach Creighton students through a prism of faith-based tradition. For us, the moral good is to protect innocent life, and we are proud to be known for what we believe. At Creighton, we believe the greater good is to advocate for and support research involving adult stem cells.

The term “adult stem cell” is actually a misnomer, as it includes all stem cells coming from sources other than embryos, including bone marrow, skin, skeletal muscle and umbilical cord blood. Particularly promising are adult stem cells found in umbilical cord blood, which remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth. Cord ­blood stem cells show great promise in the treatment of blood diseases, including leukemia, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease. They can be readily obtained and are free from ethical controversy.

Unfortunately, cord blood stem cells are generally discarded following birth, despite their tremendous potential in research and treatment of a wide variety of diseases. Some groups, including the Catholic Church in the United States, are trying to change that practice. The U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops has lobbied for federal legislation to create a nationwide bank for umbilical cord stem cells. More than 10 states have passed legislation or taken action to promote the establishment of cord-blood banks. In New Jersey, 15 Catholic hospitals have agreed to encourage umbilical cord and placenta blood donations to the state’s two public cord banks.

Cord blood contains an inexhaustible, noncontroversial source of stem cells for research therapy, which could help to replace or repair dam­aged tissues and organs. It is time for Nebraskans to become informed on the stem ­cell issue and to participate in a dialogue that explores the opportunities that adult stem cells and cord blood present. That includes the possibility of establishing a cord-blood bank in our state. We must challenge legislators, health care officials and each other to advocate for research and support in this area.

Instead of focusing on what we disagree about, we should work together on solutions that are morally and ethically right for all.

The community forum Dr. Enarson refers to will be held Thursday, September 27 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Criss II Bldg, Room 217 at Creighton University. The forum will feature presentations from Kevin FitzGerald, SJ, PhD (“Stem Cell Research: A Catholic Response") and Ron Hamel, PhD (“The Lure of Embryonic Stem Cells: What Should Catholic Health Care Do?")

To register (which is required), simply email or call 280-2017.