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Valuing bone marrow

Interested in a $3,000 scholarship? Or perhaps you could use a housing allowance?

Under a pilot program, those could be some of the incentives offered to increase donations of blood-producing marrow cells.

Writing in the New York Times today, John Wagner, MD, a professor of pediatrics and director of the blood and marrow transplant program at the University of Minnesota, and Jeff Rowes, a senior lawyer with the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Va., lay out an intriguing proposal for meeting the challenge of finding marrow donors. They also have filed, in federal district court, a constitutional challenge to a prohibition on marrow donation included in the 1984 National Organ Transplant Act.

The intent of that law was to prevent the sale of human kidneys for transplant. But Wagner and Rowes argue that, "Unlike organs, marrow cells--basically, immature blood cells--are renewable. the body grows fresh ones quickly enough to replace those extracted for transplant in about a month. And donating marrow cells is now very safe--in most cases, it's simply a matter of drawing blood from the donor's arm and running it through a machine that skims off the marrow cells. Well under half of donations are conducted the old way, by harvesting marrow cells from the donor's hip."

The authors say their proposed incentives "would not create a freewheeling market in bone marrow donations" because there would be no buyers or sellers. Instead, people who wanted to donate marrow cells "could, in good conscience, get something in return for helping to save a life."


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