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Early cord blood trial points to treatment for blood disorders

25 January 2010
Appeared in BioNews 542

Scientists in the US have developed a new technique for multiplying the small number of stem cells found in umbilical cord blood and have tested it on leukaemia patients for the first time. It is hoped that the new technique could ultimately remove the need for tissue-matched bone marrow transplants.

Colleen Delaney and colleagues at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle reported an average 164-fold increase in stem cell numbers. The stem cells were coaxed to multiply in culture by applying a protein which activates the so-called 'Notch pathway', a cell signalling cascade involved in embryo development.

The authors also describe the early results of a phase one clinical trial where the expanded cells 'engrafted' quicker and contributed more than non-expanded transplants. Engrafting is the process by which transplanted cells are accepted by the body and begin producing infection-fighting white blood cells. Delayed engraftment increases the risk of patients catching life-threatening infections. However, much larger clinical trials are needed.

'We have shown that we can decrease the time to engraftment. Now we have to show a clinical benefit to the patient', Dr Delaney said. During the trial, ten patients with leukaemia aged between three and 43 received one unit of standard cord blood and one in which the stem cells had been expanded. The work was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Stem cells extracted from cord blood can give rise to all blood cell types and offer huge promise for the treatment of leukaemia and other disorders treatable by bone marrow transplant. Unlike conventional bone marrow transplants, cord blood stem cells need not be perfectly matched to the recipient as they lack the characteristics which can normally trigger immune rejection, potentially overcoming the major problem of finding a suitable donor.

Previous research has been hampered by the low number of stem cells present in units of cord blood, approximately one-tenth of those in standard transplants. Without further enrichment, there are not enough stem cells present in cord blood to treat adult patients and previously only young children have been treated successfully. This is also thought to explain why these cells take longer to 'engraft',

In the UK, very limited amounts of cord blood are currently harvested and stored, an issue which recently attracted media attention when MP David Burrowes led a parliamentary debate on the subject of cord blood banking earlier this month, during which he stressed the need to 'alleviate the severe shortage of life-saving cells'.

Responding to this latest study, Henry Braund, chief executive of the Anthony Nolan Trust, said: 'we really need a properly resourced UK cord blood collection programme... if we are to capitalise on this amazing resource and save more lives'.

Blood breakthrough for leukaemia patients
The Telegraph |  18 January 2010
Cord blood stem cell transplant hopes lifted
BBC News |  18 January 2010
First Successful Use of Expanded Umbilical-Cord Blood Units to Treat Leukemia
ScienceDaily |  18 January 2010
Stem cells from cord blood pass early test
Medpage Today |  17 January 2010
Stem cell treatment for cord blood improved
WebMD |  19 January 2010
28 May 2010 - by Rosemary Paxman 
Delaying the clamping of the umbilical cord after birth by several minutes could bring future health benefits to newborns, according to new research....
25 January 2010 - by Dr Karen Devine 
In last week's BioNews, Mr David Burrowes, MP, commented on his successful introduction of a private member's bill on umbilical cord blood (UCB) donation in the UK Parliament in 2008, and how his continued efforts to raise awareness of the benefits of saving UCB for public use has been favourably met in a recent adjournment debate in the House of Commons....
19 January 2010 - by David Burrowes MP 
In 2008 I was the first UK MP to raise the issue of umbilical cord blood (UCB) banking as a private members bill in Parliament and several MPs spoke to me of their previous ignorance of UCB. It is an ignorance I shared despite being a parent of six children and living close to one of the National Health Service (NHS) hospitals that collects it....
10 January 2010 - by Dr Karen Devine 
Conservative MP for Enfield, Southgate, David Burrowes, led an adjournment debate in the House of Commons this week on the issue of umbilical cord blood banking and use. Stem cells from the umbilical cord of newborn babies have been successfully used as an alternative to bone marrow in the treatment of many blood disorders such as leukaemia, sickle-cell disease and immuno-deficiencies. Clinical research has also shown that cord blood may be developed to treat diabetes, liver th...
20 April 2009 - by Dr Rebecca Robey 
Canadian scientists have found a new way to prompt haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) from the bone marrow of mice to multiply, in order to provide a large quantity of HSCs from a small sample of bone marrow. They hope that this technique, if it also works in...
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