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High-Risk Procedure Pays Off for Leukemia Patient

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"The conclusion that these cells are a good alternative for patients without a suitable donor is premature but real," Morris Kletzel, MD, tells WebMD after reviewing Laughlin's research report in the June 14 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. He is director of the stem cell transplant program at Northwestern University Medical School in Chicago.

Although only 19 of the 68 patients in Laughlin's study who received cord blood survived, they all had been suffering from life-threatening blood cancers. Kletzel is encouraged that 90% of recipients had growth of new, healthy blood cells after cord blood transplantation. Of those, 18 were still completely disease-free more than three years later.

"I think that an unrelated cord blood transplant should be offered in adults when the patient is affected by a life-threatening bone marrow disease when there is no alternative treatment," Eliane Gluckman, MD, a hematologist at Hopital Saint-Louis in Paris, tells WebMD. "At this stage, only patients who do not have a [genetically matched] bone marrow donor are candidates."

Laughlin's team is now trying to grow cord blood stem cells in the laboratory, hoping that transplanting a larger dose of stem cells will allow faster recovery of blood counts and lower risk of infections.

"Cord blood banks have been established worldwide, and they offer a potential for new approaches at cell and gene therapy," says Gluckman, who wrote an editorial accompanying Laughlin's study.

What advice does DeVine have for cancer patients?

"Ask a lot of questions, and don't be afraid to find out all you can. You have to be the one in charge of your own body and your own treatment. The fighters are the ones who survive."

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