The Development of Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Therapy

Therapies using stem cells have at the minimum forty years since the first bone marrow transplant was performed in 1969 by Edward Donnall Thomas, Nobel Prize for medicine in 1990, based on a research he carried out since the fifties. But we now know that bone marrow transplants are in fact hematopoietic stem cell grafts. 4239 transplants were performed in France, just in 2007.

The idea of using umbilical cord blood stem cells is old, an article published in one of the world’s leading general medical journals, “The Lancet”, was considering this possibility since 1939 and the first attempt to treat a patient experiencing from cancer by transfusion dates from 1963. But only in 1988 the team of Professor Eliane Gluckman at Saint-Louis hospital could establish the protocol followed now, in operating the first successful transplant to treat a child experiencing from Franconi disease. Therapies derived from cord blood, either to treat bone marrow diseases or reconstitute the dermis, require the involvement of the state which must act as a driving force, otherwise its liability could be one day potentially involved due to the without of information provided.

Existing Therapies

The first successful therapeutic efforts based on umbilical cord blood were focused on blood diseases. In a second time, advances in knowledge of the different types of stem cells and their function will undoubtedly allow soon, the development of new therapies with the ability to repair the dermis of irradiated people and those with big burns.

Current Therapies Related to Blood Diseases

Hematopoietic stem cells from cord blood can favorably replace bone marrow cells for several reasons. Firstly, the greater immaturity of cord blood stem cells provides a more effective transplant. however, the chances to find a sample of cord blood compatible with a patient which has no parental relationship with the donor, are considerably higher than those of finding a bone marrow donor for an allogenic transplant.

The statistics given by Professor Gregory Katz-Benichou for the United States show that a third of patients waiting for bone marrow transplantation, have to find a donor outside their families and less than a third of them (9% of total patients) found a compatible donor. Conversely, all the investigations made in order to establish the number of cord blood transplants obtainable worldwide were successful. consequently all patients undergoing a cord blood transplant are finding compatible grafts.

Over 20 000 people have been transplanted since 1988 and it is not surprising that cord blood transplants are growing each year at the expense of bone marrow. In 2007, cord blood transplants accounted for 27% of allogenic transplants performed in France.

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