Bad to the Blood

Cells from umbilical cord blood adapt to body faster than straight blood donations

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) When blood has gone bad, patients turn normally to donors for help. But using undefined stem cells from other parts of the patient's body may help donors become more of a last-minute option in the future.

Combined with chemicals that can be found in bone marrow, umbilical cord blood gives patients another way to establish their blood supply. Using blood cells from umbilical cords appears to be safe and effective, according to researchers.

Scientists have pulled stem cells from umbilical cords over the last decade. These cells, when cultured correctly, can become other kinds of body cells.

"Ask your doctor about umbilical cord blood uses."

The study, led by Marcos de Lima, MD, now professor of medicine at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland and Section Chief of Hematologic Malignancies and Bone Marrow Transplantation at the University Hospitals Case Medical Center Seidman Cancer Center, looked at 31 patients with cancer in their blood and who did not have a compatible donor.

Each of the patients received transplants of blood from two umbilical cord units between August 2007 and February 2010. One of the units was expanded using certain cells that help replicate the blood cells. These patients were compared to 80 others who received two units of cord blood that hadn't been manipulated. All were between 18 and 65 years of age.

Researchers found that the stromal cells helped increase the number of nucleated blood cells. As with any transplantation, patients run the risk that the new cells wouldn't be accepted in the body.

It took a little more than two weeks for the cord blood recipients to have those cells turn into blood cells, compared to more than three weeks among those who received normal blood, researchers found.

Almost a month after the transfusion, 88 percent of the nucleus or center of these cells had formed among cord blood receivers, compared to 53 percent who received normal blood. Platelets engrafted in 71 percent of the cord blood patients and in 24 percent of the other patients two months later.

“In addition to the faster engraftment of neutrophils and platelets, the quality of engraftment was better than anything we’ve seen,” Dr. de Lima said.

One patient died from blood poisoning without having the body accepting the new cells a month after the transfusion. A year later, 10 of the 31 high-risk patients were still alive.

"From patients’ perspective, these are things you want to see going forward: less bleeding, less infection, fewer trips to hospital and less dependence on transfusions,” Dr. de Lima said.

The study was published online December 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, MD Anderson’s NCI Cancer Center Support Grant and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas supported the study. 

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Review Date: 
December 15, 2012
Last Updated:
December 19, 2012