March 10, 2009

Check-Off on 2008 State Income Tax Forms to Benefit Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative

LITTLE ROCK – Arkansas tax filers again this year have the option to donate all or part of their income tax refunds to help build a statewide cord blood banking system that will be based at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).

Gov. Mike Beebe signed into law in 2007 a unanimously approved measure to allow Arkansas to begin storing and researching potentially life-saving blood cells harvested from umbilical cords following the birth of healthy children. As part of that law, an income tax check-off program for contributions to the Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative was drafted and is included on the 2008 state tax check-off form that filers can elect to include with their state income tax return. No funding was included in the law other than the tax check-off program.

“This was a big first step in securing funding for a program with enormous healing and life-saving potential,” said Michele Fox, M.D., a UAMS professor of pathology and director of Cell Therapy and Transfusion Medicine. “Cells harvested from the umbilical cord immediately following the birth of a healthy child have shown tremendous promise for regenerating diseased or injured organs, including dead heart muscle, bone and spinal cord tissue.”

The check-off allows filers to have donations automatically deducted from their refund checks for whatever amount they wish to give. Filers expecting to owe money also have the option to donate by filling out the same form, but submitting a separate donation check.

The law authorized the creation of the Arkansas Commission for the Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative, an 11-member committee charged with educating pregnant mothers and the public about the benefits of donating umbilical cord blood. The Commission will establish and oversee a statewide network that will contribute to a central bank that will house the cord blood cells. Once the network is established, Arkansas will be connected to a national and international network of cord blood banks that supply cells for transplants to adults and children with cancer all over the world. UAMS, which has one of the largest adult blood cell transplant centers in the country, will serve as the statewide network’s main storage site.

“Our hope is that by having this option available to Arkansans, an initial funding stream is created that will open up the flood gates for this valuable program,” said Tim Clark, an Arkansas businessman whom Beebe appointed chairman of the Arkansas Commission for the Newborn Umbilical Cord Blood Initiative. “We have the expertise and the plan to make it happen, but funding is now the key for this program to begin saving lives.”

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a new 540,000-square-foot hospital, six centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has 2,652 students and 733 medical residents. Its centers of excellence include the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit www.uams.edu or uamshealth.com.