Cord Blood Works Against Leukemia

Chalk up another win for non-embryonic stem cells:

Umbilical-cord blood, now used mostly to treat children with leukemia, could save thousands of adults with the disease each year who cannot find bone marrow donors, two big studies indicate.

A European study found that those who got cord blood were just as likely to be free of leukemia two years later as those who got marrow. A U.S. study looking at three-year survival yielded results almost as promising. To Dr. Mary Horowitz of the Medical College of Wisconsin, senior author of the U.S. study, the message is clear: Umbilical cord blood can save adults.

Leukemia patients often undergo radiation or chemotherapy to kill their cancerous white blood cells ? a treatment that wipes out their immune systems, too. To restore their immune systems, doctors give these patients an infusion of bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, both of which contain stem cells capable of developing into every kind of blood cell.

Cord blood offers an important advantage over marrow that makes it particularly valuable for use in transplants: Its stem cells are less likely to attack the recipient’s body. That allows a wider margin of error in matching up donors and recipients. But up to now, cord blood has been considered suitable only for children, because each donation has only about one-tenth the number of stem cells in a marrow donation.

What’s interesting about the article, besides the hope it offers to leukemia patients, is that it completely ignores the implications for the debate over the use of embryonic stem cells.

Here we have two major studies demonstrating that non-embryonic stem cells are viable for another major medical treatment, one which impacts about 16,000 adult leukemia patients a year who are unable to find compatible bone marrow donors. There are now over four dozen successful medical treatments based on non-embryonic stem cells.

Yet no mention is made in the article of the fact that embryonic stem cells have yet to be tested on humans–because of their nasty tendency to develop cancers in the laboratory animals in which they’ve been injected.

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