Hilary White


Leukemia and Heart Patients Treated with Stem Cells

Hilary White

January 27, 2005 (LifeSiteNews.com) - Stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood from four Hawaiian newborns has been matched to four Asian patients on the mainland with aggressive forms of leukemia. "These four people had a second chance from something we would have tossed in the trash," said Dr. Randal Wada.

Dr. Wada, founder and medical director of the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank is trying to convince Hawaiian mothers to donate the umbilical cords of their children at the time of birth. The umbilical cord blood bank he opened in 1998 is the only one operating in the Pacific Rim.

Despite the fact that cord blood is well known to be one of the richest sources of stem cells, there are fewer than two dozen cord blood banks in the US and even fewer in Canada. The stem cells available from cord blood have many of the same qualities as embryo stem cells that make them particularly useful for medical application, without any of the moral or medical problems of embryonic stem cells.

In related news, a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Asociacion Espanola Primera de Socorros Mutuos in Montevideo, Uruguay, the Benetti Foundation in Rosario, Argentina, and Baylor University in Texas, announced they have repaired damaged heart tissue using adult stem cells.

The research team told a meeting of the Society for Thoracic Surgery in Florida, that they were not sure exactly how it worked, but that stem cells inserted into the hearts of fifteen patients had adhered to the damaged areas and restored heart function to nearly healthy levels. "All patients were discharged home within two days," the researchers said in a statement. "Early echocardiograms showed a 35 percent improvement in ejection fraction for patients who received the cells, versus only 5 percent for the control group."

The cells, derived from the patients' bone marrow, were injected into a small slit in the chest, and obviated the necessity of heart transplant surgery, which is painful and dangerous.

These breakthroughs are being accompanied by detailed examination of the complex internal system of stem cells. A study at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center funded by the National Institutes of Health has discovered an intricate set of chemical signals that stem cells use to regulate their environment.

The findings, available online in today's issue of Current Biology will help researchers understand and manipulate the complex chemical system that tells a stem cell to turn on or off certain genes. These signals determine if a cell will become some particular type of tissue, or remain a stem cell.

"We want to understand the biochemistry behind stem cells that distinguishes them from other types of cells," said Dr. Dennis McKearin, associate professor of molecular biology and associate dean for the Medical Scientist Training Program at UT Southwestern. "This work aids in understanding general stem cell biology."

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