Local doctor helps pass law to conserve cord blood cells

Dr. D. Elan Simckes


Missouri is now one of 23 states with laws designed to improve education about cord blood stem cells – potentially life-enhancing cells harvested from the umbilical cords of newborns – and about the options for preserving them.

Currently, three out of every four expectant mothers consider themselves “minimally informed” about banking cord blood, and in the majority of the 80,963 births in Missouri each year, parents do not preserve their newborn’s cord blood.

Dr. D. Elan Simckes, the medical director of The Fertility Partnership in St. Peters, helped get the law passed. He serves on the Missouri Genetics Advisory Committee, which advises the Department of Health and Senior Services on advances in the research and treatment of genetic disease.

“Part of my motivation for getting on the committee was to be in a better position to further this legislation,” says Simckes, 52. “I hope what I did was helpful. I am the son of a rabbi and also the grandson, great-grandson and great-great grandson of rabbis, so I grew up knowing what it means to serve.”

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Simckes made time recently to talk about the importance of preserving cord blood cells.

Why is preserving cord blood stem cells important?

The umbilical cord is usually thrown away, yet there are cells in every cord that have a huge potential to address more than 300 diseases – and possibly save that baby’s life later or save the lives of others.

When did you first learn the value of these cells?

When I was a guy delivering babies 15 years ago, I thought cord blood might be a valuable resource. I asked the head of the bone marrow transplant service at Barnes. He said no one was sure just yet, but that the answer was likely ‘yes.’

Now that scientists are convinced of the value of the cells for individuals who develop diseases of the blood or immune systems, please explain how they might be used.

If the baby develops a childhood cancer and needs a bone marrow transplant, having the cells presents a huge treatment option. The cells could also potentially save the life of the baby’s mother, should she get breast cancer, or save the life of another person – even someone unrelated to the baby.

Who would be against conserving the cells?

For the most part, no one is against it.

Is conserving the cells a difficult process?

No, but when a baby is born, you have only a short window to collect them. After the cord is cut, while you wait 10 minutes or so for the placenta to be expelled, you stick a needle in the cord, drain 5 to 10 ounces of blood into a special bag and seal it.

What happens next?

The bag is numbered and the cells are sent off to be washed, tested, processed and frozen. You can store the cells privately, for later use for the child or other family members, or you can donate the cells to a public bank.

The Food and Drug Administration governs the collection and storage of cord blood cells. What does it cost the new parents?

Private banking can run $2,000 for collection and processing, plus $150 to $200 annually for the cost of keeping the cells frozen. Public banking is free – but then the cells no longer belong to you. They go into a storage bank that serves as a sort of library for people who need cells.

Twenty-seven states now have cord blood banks, which have been around from the mid- to late-1990s. As more states pass these laws, will more banks open?

Yes. New laws will encourage creation of new banks and that’s good, because people in some parts of the country don’t have access to storage. Here in St. Louis, Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center has a huge library of cord cells.

When the law goes into effect in October, Missouri’s Department of Health will be required to provide pamphlets to expectant parents about saving cord blood cells and prenatal care providers will be encouraged to educate expectant parents about banking options. Will these actions address the issue?

Probably, most expectant parents will be directed to a website. I hope they will go there, because this is really important. These cord blood cells are an untapped resource. In an ideal world, every baby’s cord blood cells would be saved.

HealthWatch – Dr. D. Elan Simckes

WORK: Medical director of The Fertility Partnership in St. Peters

HOME: Creve Coeur

FAMILY: Married to Andria Danine Lard Simckes, executive director of The Fertility Partnership. They have three children: Liam Benyamin, Naava Lee, 7 and Ayden Maytal.

HOBBIES: Hiking and traveling with the family and reading, “when I have time.”