2005-03-17 / Top Stories

Mill Basin Program Promotes Life-Saving Stem Cell Research

By Dara Mormile

Steve ShorSteve Shor With the stem cell research controversy in the news of late, a program headquartered in Mill Basin is working towards saving lives using umbilical cord cells. The Umbilical Cord Bank, sponsored by the National Children’s Leukemia Foundation (NCLF), was founded by Mill Basin resident Steven Shor.

The organization, which was based in Manhattan but recently relocated to 7316 Avenue U, makes use of cord blood cell donations for transplantations to be used in place of bone marrow in helping to fight blood disorders and cancers. Its goal is to educate the community and work towards cures for diseases.

“This program will save thousands of lives as it replaces the desperate search for bone marrow donors,” said Shor, president and founder of the NCLF. “The chances of survival increase dramatically with this cord blood program. For many families, this is a type of insurance.”

The NCLF was founded fifteen years ago and has two banking programs. One is designated blood cells, for family use. According to Shor, the cantor for Mill Basin’s Temple Sholom, NCLF charges families an annual fee for cord blood cell storage for future use. The other program, non-designated blood cells, is for donors who want their cells to be available to the public and is free.

Stem cells are found in the placenta and the umbilical cord. These cells generate blood cells and include red cells carrying oxygen, white cells that fight disease and platelets that help blood clots. Because stem cells from cord blood are collected right after a baby is born, they are less likely to be contaminated with environmental toxins or viruses. Stored cord blood cells are available immediately, causing fewer complications than bone marrow.

The NCLF’s network of doctors, hospitals, treatment centers and labs facilitate the harvesting, testing, freezing and storage of stem cells drawn from umbilical cords after birth.

The NCLF has many success stories cited in its brochure. Lea Ann Curry saved her daughter Natalie’s life. Natalie was born with a blood disorder and was one of the first to receive a cord stem cell transplant. When Curry was pregnant with her second child, she arranged for stem cells from her newborn’s umbilical cord to be collected and frozen. Natalie received the transplant of her sister’s cord blood cells and days later her blood began to regenerate.

“My daughter is proof of life,” said Curry. “She and many other children are fortunate to receive the new stem cell therapy. I wish that every mother should be lucky like us.”

Cord blood donation and storage begins when pregnant women contact the NCLF, fill out forms and are tested for diseases like HIV. Shor said physicians are notified that the mother wants her baby’s cord blood cells collected. The mother takes the free cell collection kit with her when she gives birth. Collected blood cells are frozen in liquid nitrogen, labeled and stored in a cryo-preservation bank in California.

“Frozen cells are good for up to 45 years but the window of opportunity for patients who need the transplantation is two months,” said Shor. “Right now, one of the obstacles we face is lack of donors from different ethnicities. There is a desperate need for African-Americans and Hispanic donors,” said Shor. “This makes it harder to find a match for those people needing transplants.

“Education on cord blood and knowledge of its ability is necessary. Our most important concern is saving lives and I think some day we will be able to find cures for more diseases.”

Shor’s foundation also supports and is involved in embryonic stem cell research. In contrast to embryonic stem cell use, which President George Bush’s administration is opposed to, cord blood cells are not derived from living embryos. Shor said that while embryonic stem cells are from aborted embryos, they have potential to develop into different cell types in the body. But umbilical cords are disposed of and do not pose controversy, he said.

If you are pregnant and would like to donate your baby’s cord blood, contact Steven Shor at 1-718-251-1222.

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