Umbilical Cord Blood May Help Fight Leukemia

WASHINGTON, DC-Stem cells found in the umbilical cord of every newborn child may help provide new immune systems for adults fighting leukemia. These cells provide the building blocks to human life by transforming into the cells necessary for human development.

Doctors are testing to see if these morphing cells could provide new immune systems for leukemia patients. Currently, many leukemia patients receive bone marrow transplants to provide their aid their ailing immune systems. However, many patients cannot find suitable donors. There are an estimated 4,000 to 6,000 Americans who die each year while waiting for a bone marrow transplant.

Until now, stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood have been used for treating children. Doctors previously thought the small amount of cells provided in the umbilical cord would be insufficient for an adult immune system. An umbilical cord stem cell donation gives one tenth of what a patient receives from a bone marrow transplant. But new research shows the umbilical cord cells grow at an incredibly rapid rate and are helpful.

These immature cells can develop into any type of blood cell and help revitalize the immune system that chemotherapy or radiation depletes while treating leukemia.

There is also little controversy surrounding cord blood because the stem cells are not being taken from fetuses.

Another additional benefit to the new form of treatment lies in the time it takes to prepare the cells. Cord blood stem cells can be matched, located, and prepared within weeks. It takes hospitals several months to years to coordinate bone marrow transplants. Plus, cells from newborns are unlikely to hold any dangerous virus that would hurt transplant patients.

Researchers using cord blood estimate the stem cells from this source will be used for repairing damaged blood vessels in heart and stroke patients, repairing brain tissue in Parkinson's disease patients, and helping repair pancreas cells that dot not produce enough insulin in diabetics.

Source: AP Wire