December 29, 2014

What is stem cell research and how does it affect us in our everyday life? Like bone marrow, we know that the stem cells found in the umbilical cord hold the promise of health. That is why the number of families choosing cord blood banking for their newborns is growing as more continue to learn about the health benefits it can provide. The young stem cells found in cord blood are very responsive to change. They can adapt and help cure sick or damaged cells in the body. That is why doctors are able to utilize the healing properties of cord blood in the treatments of more than 80 diseases and disorders. 

Many people wonder how we got to where we are today in the advancements of stem cell research. Oddly enough, the introduction of the atomic bomb in the 1940s is what triggered stem cell therapy and research. Scientists used mice to study the effects that the radiation from atomic bombs would have on living organisms. They found that by administering stem cell transplants to the mice following exposure that they were able to repopulate the bone marrow that was destroyed by the radiation. This discovery opened the door to more research for the medical applications of radiation for cancer treatments and the use of stem cells to rebuild the blood and marrow damaged in the process.

In 1958, the first stem cell transplant (using bone marrow) was conducted successfully by Dr. Georges Mathé on a patient who had been exposed to high levels of radiation. Research continued throughout the next decade and then its practical application began to really take off in the 1970s. Doctors and healthcare professionals began to use stem cell transplants as the go-to treatment for leukemia. In a 1977 study, 100 patients with leukemia were given stem cell transplant engraftments and of those, 94 were successful and showed no sign of recurrence in the 1-4-and-a-half year post transplant1. Only one in the study had a rejection to the treatment. Continued research throughout the decades has focused on finding more cures and the safety of transplants.

Stem cell transplants grew from the hundreds in the 1970s to the tens of thousands performed annually today. That number has increased thanks in part to the growing field of cord blood banking, especially since the mid-1990s. Following cord blood’s introduction as a means of acquiring stem cells, the number of private and public banks has grown tremendously. Families are becoming more proactive in ensuring the future health of their children and know cord blood banking is a great means to do that. 

  • One hundred patients with acute leukemia treated by chemotherapy, total body irradiation, and allogeneic marrow transplantation. Thomas ED, Buckner, et al., Blood. 1977 Apr;49(4):511-33. L. 
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