Jessie Quinn of Sacramento was diagnosed with leukemia in 2010. This blood cancer progresses quickly and she was told that chemotherapy may not help. Being of mixed racial heritage, finding a bone-marrow match was impossible. What saved her was an experimental transplant of umbilical cord stem cells.
Bone-marrow transplants infuse healthy blood cells from a donor after chemotherapy and radiation fail to stop the cancer. It can be taken from blood or bone marrow. In the past, the body would reject anything but a perfect match. Stem cells from umbilical cord are a blank slate, not exposed to bacteria and viruses, and more easily accepted even if not a perfect match. The stem cells are reproduced and infused into patients. The umbilical cord transplants take longer to work than standard transplants, so the risk of infections is higher. Cord blood is a great resource and donors can be found for 99% of patients who cannot otherwise find a matching donor.
The stem cells treatment and haploidentical transplants, which use bone-marrow cells that are half-matched, have revolutionized treating blood cancers. In haploidentical transplants, the immune system is suppressed rather than destroyed, reducing the risk of damaging organs or rejection of the donor cells. Now everyone has a donor, be it a sibling, child, and all second-degree relatives (grandchildren, niece/nephew).
Doctors and patients may not be aware of these new choices besides conventional bone-marrow treatment. Many doctors still consider these new methods to not be standard practice. About 7,500 stem cell transplants were done in 2014 for leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood disorders. More than 15,000 could be done if more doctors used the new methods available.
The other dozen patients in the clinical trial had similar results with an average of 4.7 years remission. A larger group trial has now begun.
Berger, Susan. “There’s new hope for blood cancers, and it comes from umbilical cords.” Health & Science. The Washington Post, 5 Sep 2016. Web. 7 Sep 2016.