Newly discovered molecule can aid leukaemia and lymphoma treatments

by BEC CREW (18 September 2014)

“A new type of molecule has been discovered and it can be used to dramatically increase the production of umbilical cord stem cells, which are used to treat blood-related diseases such as leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma.


Image: Hywit Dimyadi/Shutterstock

Scientists at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) at the Université de Montréal in Canada have discovered a new molecule that can be used to multiply stem cells in umbilical cord blood.

Once they’re cut from newborn children, umbilical cords are an excellent source of blood that’s rich in hematopoietic stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells are a special type of stem cell that give rise to all the other types of blood cells, which are harvested and transplanted into patients to treat number of blood-related diseases such as leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma.

Umbilical cord stem cells are particularly valuable because the babies haven’t built up their immunity yet, which means their stem cells have a lower probability of prompting an adverse reaction in a transplant recipient. But the downside is that in most cases, the number of hematopoietic stem cells that can be extracted from an umbilical cord is much too low to treat an adult with, so right now, they can only be used for the treatment of children.

The team at the Université de Montréal, led by hematologist Guy Sauvageau, report that their discovery of a new molecule, named UM171, has the potential to multiply the number of umbilical cord blood units for human transplants by 10, while also reducing complications related to transplants being rejected by the recipients.

Publishing their discovery in Science, they say they used the molecule UM171 together with a new type of bioreactor to discover its multiplying affect on umbilical cord stem cells. “This new molecule, combined with the new bioreactor technology, will allow thousands of patients around the world access to a safer stem cell transplant,” says Sauvageau in a press release. “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.”

The team is set to begin its first clinical trials with umbilical cord stem cells and molecule UM171 in facilities around Montreal, Quebec, and Vancouver in Canada. They hope to see conclusive results by December 2015, and if successful, will start rolling out the technology to hospitals around the world. “The significance of this new discovery is such that over time, conclusive clinical results could revolutionise the treatment of leukemia and other blood-related illnesses,”they say. ”


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