Researchers have discovered that umbilical cord stem cells, found in the blood of the umbilical cord, and able to differentiate into various types of tissue, represent a valid treatment alternative for leukemia patients that cannot find a compatible donor for a bone marrow transplant. American hematologists meeting in San Francisco for the 50th American Society of Hematology (ASH) Congress are now focusing their research on these types of stem cells to fight blood borne tumors.
An American study has recently called attention to the possible applications of umbilical cord stem cells for leukemia treatments. For years, stem cells transplants have been considered the standard treatment for this form of cancer, but oncologists normally perform autologous transplants using the patient’s own cells or find a compatible stem cell donor, before treating with chemotherapy.
Resorting to incompatible donor cells is considered an extreme measure and creates major problems with rejection and mortality.
“Umbilical cord stem cells, thanks to their immaturity, become a valid alternative if there is too little time, as in cases of acute leukemia,” according to Mary Eapen of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplantation, working in collaboration with the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, and the New York Blood Center.
She explained, “In cases of acute leukemia, and in the absence of a relative who can donate stem cells, the first choice is a transplant from a compatible stem cell donor. But if it is not possible to find one, the use of umbilical cord stem cells represents a possible alternative because they are easily available in banks that collect umbilical cord blood. Their immunological immaturity allows them to overcome many problems when a compatible donor is not available.”
Confirming this new path for hematologists was a study presented in San Francisco conducted on 1,240 adult patients with acute leukemia. The study verified the efficiency of three sources of stem cells: bone marrow stem cells, peripheral blood stem cells, and umbilical cord stem cells. The experiment showed that the rate of leukemia survival “is more or less the same when using non-compatible donors for all three types of stem cells, and the same also when using umbilical cord stem cells with less affinity for the patient compared to bone marrow cells or peripheral blood cells.”