Umbilical cord blood and bone marrow transplants slow the progression of many cancers

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Umbilical cord blood and bone marrow transplants at Loyola University Health System, Maywood, Ill., are curing or slowing the progression of many cancers originating in the bone marrow (i.e., leukemia, myeloma) or lymphatic system (lymphoma).

More than 106,000 people in the U.S. each year are diagnosed with these life-threatening diseases.

“Even if other treatments have produced no results, a bone marrow transplant may save the patient’s life,” said Dr. Patrick J. Stiff, director of the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center and the Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Loyola University Medical Center, Maywood, Ill. Patients unable to find a matching bone marrow donor may have an alternative with umbilical cord blood (CB) transplantation.

Loyola’s unique method of preparing the umbilical cord blood enables more stem cells to survive, according to Stiff, who also is professor of Medicine and Pathology, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

A transplant provides the patient with healthy, new stem cells to develop a new immune system. And it’s working.

Holly Drucker, 30, of Chicago’s north side; Adam McGillen, 25, of Sandwich, Ill.; Moira Minielly, 39, of Wilmette, Ill.; and Donna Marasco, 45, of Bolingbrook, Ill., were dying of cancer when they arrived at Loyola’s Cardinal Bernadin Cancer Center during the past six years. At Loyola, Holly and Adam underwent umbilical cord blood transplant for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Moira, diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and Donna, with chronic myelogenous leukemia, underwent bone marrow transplant at Loyola. Today all four are leading productive, happy lives.

Loyola has the largest bone marrow transplantation program in the Midwest, performing 160 transplants each year. It is a participating center in the National Marrow Donor Program network.

The latest statistics from the National Marrow Donor Program Network show the actual one-year patient survival rate at Loyola for bone marrow transplants is 53.1 percent, compared to the 42.2 percent national survival rate.

Bone marrow is the blood-forming tissue found in the center of bones such as the leg, hip and arm. This spongy substance is a rich source of vital stem cells. Usually these stem cells produce white blood cells, which build immunity; red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to organs and tissues; and platelets, which help clot the blood to prevent hemorrhage. But with some diseases or, as a result of high-dose radiation or chemotherapy, stem cells are damaged or destroyed, which is a life-threatening situation.

The bone marrow transplant procedure replaces diseased or damaged stem cells of the patient with healthy stem cells from a tissue-matched donor or, in some cases, from the patient. “The blood that remains in the umbilical cord and placenta following birth is a rich source of stem cells from which new, healthy blood can be produced,” said Stiff. He noted that cord blood matching is less restrictive than that of bone marrow, which must be perfectly matched between donor and recipient for best results.

Each year in the U.S., 10,000 to 15,000 people are unable to find a suitable bone marrow donor among relatives or from the national bone marrow donor registry.

Several cord blood banks in the U.S. store frozen cord blood samples, which can be available for transplant within days, whereas bone marrow must be obtained from a donor for a specific patient and may take months to obtain.

Loyola is focusing its research on CB transplantation in adults; to date, 20 adult patients have been treated with encouraging results. Research advances have enabled some cord blood patients who were eligible only for a Hospice program (because no matches with related or unrelated living donors could be found) to go back to work or school full-time. “Without the cord blood transplantation, they would not have survived,” said Stiff.

Visit the Loyola University Health System Web site for more information. To schedule an appointment, call (708) 216-8563.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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