Investigators from the Université de Montréal have announced the discovery of a new molecule, named UM171, which allows for the multiplication of stem cells in a unit of cord blood.
Umbilical cord stem cells are used for transplants aimed at curing a number of blood-related diseases, including leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma. For many patients this therapy comprises a treatment of last resort.
The team state that this world breakthrough has the potential to multiply the number of cord blood units available for a transplant in humans by ten. In addition, it will considerably reduce the complications associated with stem cell transplantation. And it will be particularly useful for non-Caucasian patients for whom compatible donors are difficult to identify.
A clinical study using UM171 and a new type of bioreactor developed for stem culture in collaboration with the University of Toronto will be initiated in December 2014 at the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital. The grafts will be distributed to patients in Montreal, Quebec City and Vancouver for this first Canadian clinical study. Tangible results should be available one year later, that is, in December 2015. The significance of this new discovery is such that over time, conclusive clinical results could revolutionize the treatment of leukemia and other blood-related illnesses.
It is hoped that this new molecule, combined with the new bioreactor technology, will allow thousands of patients around the world access to a safer stem cell transplant. Considering that many patients currently cannot benefit from a stem cell transplant for lack of matching donors, this discovery looks to be highly promising for the treatment of various types of cancer.
Umbilical cord blood from newborn infants is an excellent source of hematopoietic stem cells for stem cell transplants, since their immune system is still immature and the stem cells have a lower probability of inducing an adverse immune reaction in the recipient.
Furthermore, it is not necessary for the immunological compatibility between donor and recipient to be perfect, unlike in a bone marrow transplant. However, in most cases the number of stem cells obtained from an umbilical cord is much too low for treating an adult, and its use is confined above all to the treatment of children. The team summise that with the new molecule UM171 it will be possible to multiply stem cells in culture and to produce enough of them to treat adults, especially those who are not Caucasian, and who because of the lack of donors have limited access to transplants.
Source: IRIC Université de Montréal