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Stem Cell Transplants Can Become More Available Thanks to a New Molecule

Researchers from the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer at the Université de Montréal have discovered a new molecule, the first of its kind, that helps multiply stem cells in a transplant of cord blood. The finding was given light in the magazine Science.

Stem cells from umbilical cord are used for transplants in treating a number of diseases, in particular blood-related ones, including leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma. As the immune system of a child that is a source of cord blood is immature, umbilical cord stem cells usually do not cause adverse immune reactions in the recipient and do not require perfect immunological compatibility between the donor and the host, unlike bone marrow transplants that are used in treating these diseases. For many patients, especially for non-Caucasian ones, treatments based on umbilical cord stem cells are of last resort, since it is very difficult to find compatible donor.

The finding by Canadian researchers can help multiply 10 times the number of stem cells contained in the cord blood unit, thus addressing the problem of scarcity of transplants and low number of cells contained in them. Moreover, the new molecule significantly reduces complications from stem cell transplantation.

A clinical study with the use of the new molecule named UM171 and a new type of bioreactor for stem culture will be launched in December 2014 and involve patients from various Canadian cities. The first results of the clinical trial will be available in December 2015. The researchers believe that the finding can open door for treating thousands of patients across the globe with umbilical cord stem cells and make the transplants safer.