Mismatched Cord Blood Can Save Kids
Cord Blood Transplant as Good as Bone Marrow Transplant for Leukemia
WebMD News Archive
June 7, 2007 -- Kids with leukemia may need a bone marrow transplant from a
matched donor. But they do just as well with mismatched cord blood, doctors
About 30% of patients needing a transplant are lucky -- they have a brother
or sister whose bone marrow is a perfect match for their own. But the other 70%
of patients have to endure a desperate search for a matched stranger willing to
undergo the painful donation process.
Now a new finding is revolutionizing the field of bone marrow transplant.
University of Minnesota researcher John E. Wagner, MD, and colleagues show that
unmatched infusions of umbilical cord blood work as well as matched bone marrow
"Seeing the lack of impact of matching was a surprise," Wagner tells
WebMD. "No one would have thought this would have occurred. This is going
to change the face of transplant medicine."
The change already is under way. About half of children and 30% to 40% of
adults who would previously have received bone-marrow transplants -- if they
could find a donor -- are now getting cord blood infusions, says Gary Kleiner,
MD, PhD, co-director of pediatric stem cell transplants at the University of
Miami Miller School of Medicine.
"Potentially, with cord blood, most patients who didn't have a donor
before will now have someone," Kleiner, who was not involved in the Wagner
study, tells WebMD. "After doing 1,000 cord blood transplants, I have never
found a patient without a suitable cord-blood donor -- and it saves time, which
often is of the essence."
Moreover, when cord blood is a perfect match with the patient's tissues, it
appears that cord blood transplants offer even better results than matched bone
"I think this is one of the most important pieces of medical information
to come out of transplant medicine in a long time," Wagner says. "It
has profound implications not only for individual patients but also for public
Why public policy? What's holding back more widespread use of cord blood is
not lack of donors. Wagner and Kleiner say that donations -- taken from the
umbilical cord and placenta after a healthy baby already is delivered -- are
not hard to obtain.
The problem is the expense of properly banking cord blood. Wagner says that
Congress has already allocated $100 million for cord blood banking and that
more public funds likely will become available as cord blood transplants become
ever more common.