by Kate Sneddon, CEO Biovault Family
Since the late 1980s, umbilical cord blood and related birthing tissues have evolved from medical waste to a rich source of blood stem cells. These can be transplanted to restore normal blood and immune cell development and function in blood diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma, certain inherited genetic disorders, bone marrow failure and immune deficiency diseases.
At least 80 blood cancers, genetic diseases and immune system and metabolic disorders can be treated or cured with hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) using cord blood as the source of donor cells.
A growing body of clinical study data suggests that cells contained in umbilical cord blood or cell therapies manufactured from cord blood or other birthing tissues may also be able to facilitate repair of injured organs, modulate inflammation to prevent tissue damage after injury, treat cardiac and vascular disorders, modify immune conditions such as diabetes, and treat neurological disorders including autism, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury and stroke.
The search for a suitable donor for patients who need a hematopoietic stem cell transplant begins within the family. Brothers and sisters with the same parents have a 25% chance of being a perfect match. However, about 70% of patients do not have a match within the family. For them, physicians can search registries around the world for a suitable adult bone marrow donor or banked stem cells derived from donated umbilical cord blood.
Cord blood has the advantage of being able to cross HLA barriers and to be transplanted without full matching. This has increased access to HSCT for patients worldwide.
Among unrelated hematopoietic stem cell transplants today, cord blood is the source for about 40% in pediatric patients and 10% of adult patients. Cord blood as a cell source for hematopoietic transplant has several advantages over adult bone marrow.
Cord blood stem cells typically have not been exposed to viruses, chemicals and environment pollutants that can alter cell function. Because of increased tolerance of cord blood T-cells, cord blood stem cells also do not have to be matched as closely to the patient as do cells from adult donors.
In addition, cord blood is easily banked so it is more quickly available than obtaining stem cells from an adult donor who must be located, consented, tested and harvested. As such, cord blood can be the preferred donor source for patients who have a life-threatening genetic disorder, need a transplant quickly, or have an uncommon tissue type because of their racial or ethnic heritage.