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Scientists at the BC Cancer Agency in collaboration with partners across Canada have leveraged funding for three years, valued at approximately $1.2 million, to pursue a new clinical and translational research project on the use of cord blood cells for adult patients who need stem cell transplants.
This project is an important partnership between the Stem Cell Network and several biotech partners who have joined forces to support an integrated research effort across Canada that will focus on developing new ways of improving the use of umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants.
"Umbilical cord blood is an untapped resource of cells for transplantation," explains Dr. Connie Eaves of the BC Cancer Agency, project leader for this research. "Cells in cord blood are potent, and it looks as if this might have some promise for adults."
Dr. Clay Smith, researcher at the BC Cancer Agency and a principal investigator on the project, will be speaking about the opportunities this research holds on November 5 in Vancouver at the 2008 annual conference of the Stem Cell Network.
"This joint funding will help researchers to develop new methods for growing cord blood stem cells in the laboratory so that higher numbers are available for transplantation," says Dr. Smith. "If successful, this project could help people in B.C., Canada and throughout the world to have a better chance for a successful transplant."
In 1989, it was first shown that the usually discarded blood in the umbilical cord of a newborn baby contained enough blood stem cells to help treat a sibling child who needed a transplant. In the past decade, transplantation with umbilical cord blood stem cells has become a life-saving procedure for thousands of persons around the world with blood cancers and other serious blood disorders who did not have a genetically matched sibling or volunteer donor available.
While this treatment has brought hope to many people, umbilical cord blood transplants still have many limitations. The most important is that a typical cord blood unit does not contain enough blood stem cells to rapidly restore blood formation and function in most adult patients. To get around this problem, many centres are now combining several cord blood units to give to a single adult.
However, usually only one of the two contributions is effective and the reasons for this are unknown. The new project will use purified stem cells from one cord blood unit and 'unmanipulated' cells from a second cord blood unit to see if that can give better results and determine the underlying reasons.
"There are few research teams in the world that have the expertise and experience to address this question and B.C. and Canada should be proud that the best resides here," says Dr. Michael Rudnicki, Scientific Director of the Stem Cell Network. "This is a unique study that relies on collaboration in both basic and clinical research to move new findings from the lab into patient care as quickly as possible."
A number of partners in research and industry will be involved in the new three-phase project, which includes comparing purified and 'unmanipulated' cord blood stem cells, understanding the behaviour of cord blood stem cells to predict how they will perform, and finding ways to expand the number of stem cells available for transplant. Partners include Aldagen, Dalhousie University, Duke University, Insception Biosciences, STEMCELL Technologies, the University of B.C., and the University of Toronto.