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Maryland research on sickle cell disease is tragically underfunded

I was pleased to read your coverage of the suffering endured by patients living with sickle cell disease ("As a sufferer, researcher and advocate, Johns Hopkins' Carlton Haywood has been battling the 'orphan disease' sickle cell all his life," July 7). The report noted that sickle cell disease research is tragically underfunded in Maryland.

The only known cure for SCD involves adult stem cells, either from a bone marrow or from an umbilical cord blood transplant. Dr. Javier Bolanos Meade, at Johns Hopkins, is doing research to expand the pool of bone marrow donors so that more patients can find a match. Other research shows SCD can be reversed with a transplant of cells from umbilical cord blood. Several children have already been cured of sickle cell disease with a cord blood transplant.

In February, the state Senate passed legislation establishing the Maryland Sickle Cell Disease Research Fund. The legislation would have established a grant program to fund SCD research using bone marrow and cord blood.

Unfortunately, the House of Delegates did not vote on the bill. Leaders of the Maryland Stem Cell Research Fund disparaged the bill's approach because they felt that alternative approaches, such as one they had already funded at $690,000, were better.

Their preferred approach is to devote 10-15 years to developing a universal blood supply using embryonic-like stem cells so that SCD patients can get red blood cell transfusions. This is not a cure, only a treatment that must be repeated often.

How sad that the leadership of the House of Delegates and the MSCRF put politics ahead of life-saving medical research. Kudos to the Senate for recognizing that adult stem cells are already saving lives.

Nancy E. Paltell, Edgewater

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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