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"Breakthrough" for blood cancer treatment

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A new treatment for leukemia and other blood cancers uses StemEx therapy.

Researchers have announced a "breakthrough" for treating leukemia, lymphoma and other types of blood cancer that comes from using umbilical cord blood to produce stem cells.

Patrick Stiff, MD, lead author of the study. Stiff, director of Loyola's Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, presented the findings at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology; explaining the life-saving treatment.

The team of scientists involved found they could grow stem cells in the lab prior to transplanting them into the bone marrow of patients with various types of blood cancers.

What that means is patients with cancer who fail to respond to chemotherapy no longer have to wait for a blood marrow donor match. Finding a match occurs less than 50 percent of the time. But cord blood can be donated easily, requires less than an ounce of blood from newborns, can be stored in a blood bank and don't require a perfect match, the researchers explain.

What is stem cell therapy?

Stem cells live in the bone marrow. Their purpose is to replenish the body of old cells that mature and die.

They are comprised of red blood cells that carry hemoglobin and thus oxygen, white blood cells that help fight infection and platelets that are important for blood clotting and healing.

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Cancer of the blood, as well as some other disorders, destroys a person's bone marrow so new and vital blood cells can no longer be produced. Radiation and chemotherapy can also damage bone marrow. Stem cell transplant can allow doctors to use higher doses of chemotherapy to treat cancer. The cells can also help kill cancer.

Cord blood had previously been a source of stem cells transplant for children because of the small quantity and researchers have been seeking to find ways to produce more in the lab.

According to Cancer.org, the first cord blood stem cell transplant was performed in 1988 - as an interesting aside.

The breakthrough

The "breakthrough" comes about from the ability to produce stem cells in a lab setting.

The researchers for the current study investigated StemEx® technology that grows stem cells in an outside lab and produces 14 times the number of stem cells after 21-days.

Next they used the transplants in 101 leukemia and lymphoma patients throughout centers in the US, Europe and Israel that included 25 centers. For a comparison, the investigators used patients given a double dose of cord blood cells.

After 100 days, survival among the StemEx group was 84.2 percent versus 74.6 percent in the control group. Patients given the StemEx treatment also had faster development of insufficient blood cells that translates to less risk of infection, bleeding and other serious complications that can occur from blood cancers. The treatment is available now through clinical trial only and is not approved by the FDA. You can visit clinicaltrials.gov or speak with your doctor about whether you might be a candidate for the therapy.

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