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Connecticut and Stem Cell research

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Signings give hope

By: Sara Capozzi, Herald Staff


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FARMINGTON - Gov. M. Jodi Rell signed two bills into law Wednesday during a public ceremony attended by state legislators and medical professionals at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

One bill designates the month of November as Lung Cancer Awareness Month in Connecticut and requires that certain measures be taken to test the feasibility of establishing a public umbilical cord blood bank.

Due to the ever-increasing rate of lung cancer cases nationwide, state legislators supported the idea to dedicate a month to educate and spread awareness for disease prevention.

According to the American Lung Association, there are an estimated 350,679 people currently living with lung cancer in the United States, the majority of whom were diagnosed in the last five years.

The state of Connecticut has the ninth highest cancer rate in the U.S. and lung cancer accounts for one-fourth of all cancer deaths in the state.

Still, medical professionals say up to 90 percent of lung cancer deaths can be prevented by making healthy lifestyle changes.

"If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start," Rell said. "It's that simple and it's a message we have to continue to drive home."

The bill also requires that the Department of Public Health establish an ad hoc committee whose goal will be to study the feasibility of establishing an umbilical blood bank in the state and find ways to collaborate with banks from other states.

Last year, Rell signed into law a bill authorizing embryonic stem cell research in the state. As a next step to further stem cell research, the umbilical cord blood bank would be used for collecting and storing the umbilical cord blood and placenta tissue donated by maternity patients at hospitals in the state.

Umbilical cord blood is rich in stem cells, which some scientists believe make it an effective treatment option for patients afflicted with blood-related cancers and genetic disorders affecting the blood and immune system.

"I'm sure in the lifetime of the students who practice or learn medicine today, the use of stem cells, whether they be obtained from the umbilical cord or from other sources, will become increasingly important in medicine," said Dr. Peter Decker, executive vice president for Health Affairs and Dean of the UConn School of Medicine. "And a bill that establishes a bank for stem cells from the umbilical cord is exceptionally important. It will be important diagnostically and therapeutically going forward."

The second bill limits the co-payments patients may be charged by hospitals or insurance companies for MRIs, CAT scans and PET scans.

Under the new law, individuals may not be charged more than $75 for MRIs and CAT scans, not to exceed more than $375 annually. It also limits the cost of PET scans to no more than $100 each and no more than $400 per year.

"As someone who's been through all those things in the last couple of years, I can tell you, even if you have insurance, sometimes it's just not feasible to go through each and everyone of those, especially with high co-pays," said Rell, a breast cancer survivor. "And everyone, myself included, understands that if you have a debilitating disease, you may need these tests repeatedly...This will help in relieving that burden for a number of people."

Sara Capozzi can be reached at scapozzi@newbritainherald.com, or by calling (860) 225-4601, Ext. 320.

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