A team of researchers at the acclaimed Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle has developed a new technique that can be used to harvest a rich supply of stem cells from cord blood. Eventually, they say, this new approach could end the need for bone marrow transplants for patients with lethal diseases like leukemia.
Cord blood has long been recognized as a promising source of replacement cells, but there were never enough of them to successfully treat patients. Instead, patients were forced to rely on bone marrow transplants which their bodies frequently rejected. The team found that by removing lineage-positive cells which inhibit growth of stem cells they could significantly improve the environment for the development of new stem cells.
"The real ground-breaking aspect of this research is that we have shown that you can manipulate stem/progenitor cells in the lab with the goal of increasing their numbers. When given to a person, these cells can rapidly give rise to white blood cells and other components of the blood system," said Colleen Delaney, an assistant member in the Hutchinson Center's Clinical Research Division.
"The holy grail is to have an 'off the peg' source of unlimited numbers of 'neutral' stem cells which can be given to any patient safe in the knowledge that they will not cause the very difficult 'graft versus host' problems that lead to rejection and often the death of the patient," said Dr. David Grant, scientific director of Leukaemia Research in the UK.