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Cord Blood

The Knesset Salute

The Public Cord Blood Banks Day
On July 18 2011, the Knesset (Israel’s Parliament) held its first ever salute to Israel’s Public Cord Blood Banks. Sponsored by Knesset Member, Ze'ev Bielski, the event focused on the need to increase the genetic variety of cord blood units stored in Israel’s public cord banks, to improve the chances of patients from all ethnic backgrounds and communities to receive a lifesaving stem cell transplant.

Held in the presence of the Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, Deputy Minister of Health Rabbi Ya’akov Litzman, members of the Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, representatives of the MDA and Bedomaich Chayi public cord blood banks, the real stars of the event were the mothers who donated cord blood units and cord blood transplant recipients.

Left to right (front row): Shelly Kapusta (ICBB CEO), Rabbi Buksbaum (Bedamaich Chai),
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, Prof. Eilat Shinar (MDA), MK Ze’ev Bielski.

The event emphasized the importance of passing Israel’s Cord Blood Law, introduced to the Knesset by now Minister of Welfare & Social Services Moshe Kachlon four years ago. The Law provides partial state support for the increase of the public cord blood units in Israel by 1,000 units a year, and the creation of strict supervisory regulations for the activities of both public and private blood cord banks.

This goal was achieved after seven years of a persistent struggle led by Ms. Shelly Kapusta, chairperson of the ICBB (Israel Cord Blood Bank) association, together with the public cord blood banks, members of Knesset and dozens of volunteers. Awards were presented to various organizations and persons who supported the project.

So far Israel’s three public cord blood banks have collected around 25,000 units, of which over 8,500 units were deemed suitable for long-term storage for future use of all patients in need, whether in Israel or around the world.

Each year approximately 800 patients in Israel are added to those awaiting a stem cell bone marrow transplant, more from the greater Jewish world. In Israel, around 25% eventually find a matching transplant donor among their family members. While trying to beat the clock, the rest search for a transplant match, either from unrelated donors in the world’s registries or from stored cord blood units.

Currently there are three active public cord blood banks in Israel. The Magen David Adom cord blood bank is active since 2002 at the maternity wards at Wolfson Medical Center, Ichilov Hospital, Nahariya Hospital, and the Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, Jerusalem. It holds 3,800 units, of which 24 units were already delivered for cell stem transplants: 7 to patients in Israel and the rest to patients abroad. The Bedamaich Chayi organization, founded in 2006, operates in the Jerusalem area and elsewhere around the country, and has additional 3,000 units in storage. Another 1,800 additional units are stored at the Sheba Public hospital.

Until 2010 all these organizations acted solely with the help of the donations they were able to collect. As of July 2010 the Ministry of Health now grants them support to the total sum of NIS 3 million (around $830,000) which helps to slightly expand their activities.

From left to right: MK Ze’ev Bielski, Lara Hila Jean, Moran Elboim and baby Amit, Esti Ovadia
(MDA Chief CB Collector), Prof. Shinar (MDA) and Shelly Kapusta (ICBB)

One of the day’s most touching moments was the meeting between the baby Amit, whose mother Mrs. Moran Elboim donated his cord blood unit, and Ms. Lara Hila Jean, an Israeli public bank cord blood stem cell recipient.

MK Ze'ev Bielski, whose work helped implement the law, said "I consider it of vital importance to bring Israel to the forefront of medical technology in the field of preserving cord blood in public banks. This will ensure the potential of saving the lives of hundreds more patients each year in Israel, regardless of their religion, race or gender. Together with MK Haim Katz - who placed cord blood at the top of the agenda of the Knesset's Labor, Welfare, and Health Committee that he heads - I will continue to make every effort to increase significantly the diversity of cord blood units collected. Our goal is to meet the needs of every patient in Israel who requires a stem-cell transplant to save their life. I salute the volunteers who have worked for years with amazing determination to transform the dream of saving the ill people of Israel into a reality. The credit is wholly yours!"

It was also announced that July 18 will now be the date of a Salute to the Cord Blood Banks to be held by the Knesset as an annual event.