September 5, 2014

One roadblock a family may encounter when it comes to a stem cell transplant is whether the blood stored from a baby’s umbilical cord is large enough, should it be needed for treatment on an adult. In some cases it may not be, and the patient will be required to have more than one unit of cord blood, if one is available. But a recently discovered molecule by researchers in Canada has the ability to multiply stem cells contained in cord blood could reduce the requirement for additional units.

Molecule “UM171,” named in honor of the institution in which researchers identified it, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) at the Université de Montréal in Canada, holds the potential to reproduce up to 10 times the number of stem cells than researchers have been able to in the past1. Umbilical cord blood is considered by many researchers to be a safer source of stem cells, because of the younger nature of the cells and the ability to be more easily matched than stem cells from bone marrow. The likelihood that the recipient’s body might reject the transplant is also reduced when the source of the stem cells is cord blood. This newly discovered molecule, when combined with a specific cell culture treatment, is expected to increase the availability of stem cells for transplantation for patients of all ages.

This is great news for any adult needing a stem cell transplant or a child needing additional transplants. But it is even better news for families of a diverse or mixed racial background. Matching stem cell donors are much harder to find for these families due to their unique genetic makeup. This molecule, however, means that if they do have a match, more of those stem cells can be created from the compatible blood.

Clinical studies on this molecule’s effectiveness will begin in December 2014. This provides additional assurance for families who choose cord blood banking since they know their cord blood unit can be utilized even after their child reaches adulthood. Cord blood stem cells are used in the treatments of more than 80 diseases and disorders and researchers are discovering new ways it is beneficial every day.

• New molecule 'allows umbilical cord stem cells to multiply.’ Medical News Today, Published online Sept. 18, 2014. Found online: http://goo.gl/ELJ1hJ

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