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Multiplying cord blood stem cells thanks to technology and molecular science

A team of Canadian researchers has discovered a molecule capable of multiplying stem cells extracted from cord blood samples

Through a new technology, a group of Canadian researchers has determined a milestone in the field of stem cell transplants obtained from umbilical cord: they have discovered a molecule capable of multiplying stem cells extracted from cord blood samples. This could allow doctors to offer patients more substantial stem cell transfusions for the therapeutic treatment of different forms of blood cancer, such as leukaemia, anemia and myeloma.

Directed by Dr. Guy Sauvageau, the team of researchers at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) at the University of Montreal (Canada) published in the journal Science their study, in which they explain how they managed to discover the molecule UM171 – so named in honour of the university – thanks to the use of a new bioreactor.

It is a memorable and innovative discovery, through which it is possible to multiply the stem cells extracted from a unit of umbilical cord blood. In addition, this global breakthrough will significantly reduce the difficulties associated with stem cell transplantation.

Blood stem cells – haematopoietic stem cells – are indeed an ideal resource in transplantation, as they are easily accessible, relatively unspecialised and less likely to induce a rejection reaction in recipients. Moreover, it is not necessary that the genetic compatibility between donor and recipient is identical (as it must be in the case of bone marrow).

However, the number of stem cells contained in a blood unit is limited: «You get what you get,» says Sandra Cohen, haematologist and responsible for the trial in Phase I/II. This can now be overcome thanks to the UM171 molecule, through which the stem cells obtained are multiplied in the laboratory before being infused in patients who are participating in the clinical study, launched at the end of 2014.

Dr. Sauvageau and his team are already very satisfied with the results obtained, stating that «This new molecule, combined with the new bioreactor technology, will allow thousands of patients around the world to access to a safer stem cell transplants », and also that «this discovery looks to be highly promising for the treatment of various types of cancer».