Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, wants Connecticut to create a public umbilical cord blood bank to help individuals suffering from more than 40 different diseases.

It would be the first public cord bank in the state and the 16th in the nation, according to supporters of the proposal.

Dr. Charles Lockwood, head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale, said it’s a relatively inexpensive proposition for the state to collect the umbilical cord blood, which is rich with stem cells. Currently umbilical cord blood is being discarded unless a woman instructs her doctor to send it to a private umbilical cord bank.

He said these private cord banks are expensive and can initially cost $1,500 to $2,500 to store the blood in addition to annual fees. In the end, only 1 out of 20,000 individuals actually ever need the blood being stored in these private banks. Those stem cells are not available to the general public, just the individual or family which has banked them.

Since only the affluent can offer these blood banks, currently the need for these stem cells is “greatest amongst minorities,“ Lockwood said. He said a public umbilical cord bank could provide enough diversity and achieve the 150,000 units of stem cells nationally to meet the needs of thousands of people.

“As a state it is critical that we focus our attention on building a public umbilical cord blood bank in order to provide potentially life-saving treatment options for those who need them most,” Lockwood said.

Fasano said he envisions centers being set up in New Haven and Hartford to collect the cord blood from anyone willing to donate it. That cord blood would not be stored for their personal benefit, but for the benefit of anyone that needed it.

Any cord blood, which did not meet the standards for donation, would then be donated to stem cell research efforts at Yale and the University of Connecticut.

While the state is having budget problems, Fasano said it will only cost $200,000 to set up the banks and help with the marketing of the program. He said by year three the public bank will break even and by year five it will begin turning a profit from the sale of the cord blood to those that need it.

Dr. Edward Snyder said it was not financially feasible for Connecticut to build its own storage site for the cord blood so the blood will be collected and stored in existing banks.

“It’s about people helping people,” Dr. Winston Campbell, head of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Department at John Dempsey Hospital, said.

A public hearing on the proposal will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday by the Public Health Committee.

Fasano said the legislature already mandated that doctors tell their patients during their third-trimester about the existence of umbilical cord blood banks. He said usually doctors just give their patients a brochure on the topic, so asking them to include a little more information shouldn’t be a terrible burden.