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Stem Cell Treatment for Leukemia Improved

Transplant Technique Speeds Immune System Recovery

Larger, Longer Cord Blood Study Planned continued...

If that trial is successful, Delaney says the approach may prove useful not just for the treatment of blood-related cancers, but for the treatment of other conditions where white blood cell counts are low.

Stem cell transplant expert James Gajewski, MD, of Oregon Health Sciences University, tells WebMD that the new research addresses one of two major issues surrounding umbilical cord blood transplants.

“Every other attempt to expand (cord blood) stem cells has basically failed,” he says. “This is really the first significant proof that these cells can be expanded, and this group should be commended for doing brilliant work.”

But he says it remains to be seen if cord-blood derived stem cells can adequately mature and become useful in the immune systems of adult patients.

"This study wasn’t designed to address this issue, but a longer, larger study should,” he says.

Even if larger studies are positive, it is still not clear if stem umbilical cord blood transplants will ever be commercially viable, he says.

The banks that store umbilical cords are funded by the government. If government funding goes away, Gajewski says cord blood banks probably will too unless cord blood transplants prove useful for much more than the treatment of blood-related cancers.

“For the cord blood banks, the great hope for the future is that there will be many other uses for this treatment, such as repairing damaged hearts or livers,” he says. “But that is a long way away.”

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