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A research breakthrough by scientists at the blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan could lead to better outcomes for patients having stem cell transplants using umbilical cord blood.

The team has found a simple way of activating the natural killer cells in cord blood units to potentially double the effects of the stem cells in the units.

This could reduce the risk of complications following a transplant and allow hospitals to save money by using just one cord blood unit, rather than two.

The researchers, led by Dr Aurore Saudemont at the Anthony Nolan Research Institute, also believe that their findings could lead to more patients being offered cord blood transplants and that this could improve long-term patient outcomes.

Dr Saudemont said: “We hope that in the short term we can improve the results for patients and make better use of the cord blood units that we have banked.

“The technique we have discovered is so simple that it could be used in hospitals that offer transplants all over the world. As a result, it could benefit a lot of stem cell transplant patients internationally.”

The researchers have discovered that if they add a protein called IL-15 to the natural killer cells in a cord blood unit, these make the stem cells more effective, optimising the effect of the graft.

This technique is the subject of a research paper published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The main issues faced by cord blood transplant patients are the delayed stem cell engraftment, potentially the long time for their immune systems to regenerate after the procedure and the high risk of infection.

Read the full article on the Anthony Nolan site here: