Mahendra S. Rao, M.D., Ph.D. , Katherine S. Brown, Ph.D.
Cord Blood Stem Cells
For over two decades, stem cells isolated from umbilical cord blood have been successfully used in transplant medicine to treat life-threatening diseases such as leukemia and other cancers, and blood and immune disorders. Umbilical cord blood stem cells have been used in more than 35,000 transplants worldwide. With regenerative medicine continuing to attract interest from scientists and clinicians, umbilical cord blood stem cells are increasingly being investigated for their capacity to induce healing and help repair tissues in conditions that have no cure today.
Cord blood collection poses no medical risk to the mother or infant. When cord blood is donated to a public bank, it is HLA typed and catalogued in a searchable registry, allowing physicians to match a unit to an unrelated patient requiring a stem cell transplant. Compared to bone marrow, cord blood offers the benefits of using biologically younger stem cells and less risk of serious complications when used in transplants. Cord blood also circumvents the technical and ethical concerns that can arise with research involving embryonic stem cells.
Clinical trials are already underway to explore the use of cord blood cells to treat a number of disease states, and the field is poised to deliver some very exciting breakthroughs. However, while clinical trials are essential for validating a therapeutic option and bringing it into practice, they can be both costly and time-consuming, and researchers, therefore, look for ways to optimize trial strategy. Family health registries may provide a possible solution.
Because of their ongoing relationship with the family, private banks have the opportunity to record extensive family health histories, which may help scientists retroactively link preliminary clinical trial outcomes to genotypic and phenotypic traits. This is a huge potential benefit both in evaluating results and in recruitment for a clinical trial, where enrollment can be targeted to those people most likely to benefit from a given treatment.