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Cord Blood's Precious Gift

Researchers find way to grow umbilical stem cells in lab

TUESDAY, Oct. 22, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Blood taken from umbilical cords is rich in disease-fighting stem cells that can be used in lifesaving transplants.

However, getting enough cord blood for transplantation into adults has always been a problem.

That's why scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center at the University of Washington tried to grow these embryonic stem cells in a laboratory setting. They exposed the blood to a particular molecule called Delta-1. The process resulted in more than a 100-fold increase in the number of the most immature stem cells.

Their findings, published in the current issue of the Journal of Clinical Investigation, show that when the cultured cells were transplanted into immuno-deficient mice, they were more potent in restoring the mice's blood and immune cell systems than non-cultured cells or those cultured in the absence of Delta-1. Immuno-deficient mice resemble leukemia patients who have had radiation treatment before a bone marrow transplant.

The results suggest these methods could lead to more frequent use of umbilical cord blood for transplant patients.

Many surgeons who perform transplants favor umbilical cord blood because it contains a higher percentage of stem cells than adult bone marrow, which is another source of stem cells. It has other advantages: cord blood cells divide faster than bone marrow stem cells and they have fewer immune cells. The embryonic immune cells can't yet distinguish between self and non-self, which is significant because when bone marrow is transplanted from one person into another, host cells can attack donor cells and vice versa. This is often the cause of a patient's death after a bone marrow transplant.

More information

Leukemia Links has more on cord blood transplants.

SOURCE: Journal of Clinical Investigation, news release, Oct. 22, 2002
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