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One person in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer every four minutes. Blood is comprised of three types of blood cells, all developed from stem cells inside of bone marrow. The formation of abnormal white blood cells is the cause of Leukemia, as the abnormal cells have a longer lifespan and crowd out normal blood cells, prohibiting them from performing their duties. With most cancers, chemotherapy and radiation are popular routes of treatment for Leukemia; stem cell therapy, however, has become a promising alternative.

Chemotherapy works to treat Leukemia all throughout the body, as the medication is inserted through an IV and into the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells and allow healthy ones to grow in their place. Radiation, on the other hand, targets a particular cancerous area in the body through high-energy X-rays. Both methods have negative side effects on the patient’s health by killing off nourishing cells, with blood cells in the bone marrow as a primary target.

Stem cell therapy to treat Leukemia has been beneficial to the patients, combining chemotherapy, radiation or both with stem cell transplants; this allows doctors to give chemo and radiation in strong doses in order to ensure the elimination of cancer cells. First, all existing bone marrow and abnormal cancer cells are killed off using chemo and/or radiation. Then, healthy stem cells are inserted into the patient’s bloodstream, where they are able to normally function, divide and replace the abnormal cancer cells. The stem cells can be provided from the patient himself, a family member or a donor and can be found in bone marrow, blood and umbilical cords; there is always a huge risk of rejection when using donor stem cells.

While most blood stem cells are found in the bone marrow, a small population can be found in the bloodstream, called PBSCs, and can be used in the same conditions as bone marrow stem cells. PBSCs can be obtained through the extraction of blood, making it an extremely less invasive process than a bone marrow transplant. However, because they are scarce in the bloodstream, it is hard to obtain a large enough number of them for successful treatment. A better alternative than PBSCs and bone marrow stem cells is the use of umbilical cord blood stem cells.

With no use after birth, umbilical cords are easily accessible and readily available. Umbilical cord blood stem cell transplants are more appealing than PBSCs and bone marrow stem cells because they have less of a chance of rejection because of their lack of development of features that a hosts immune system would reject. In addition, because the umbilical cord blood stem cells are not as developed, they are less prone to attack the patients body. Close to one in three people who have Leukemia never find a matching stem cell donor; umbilical cord blood stem cells are extremely versatile and available, making them an excellent resource for cancer therapy.

This type of cancer therapy has been seen in the real world, with an eight-year-old girl who is battling deadly Leukemia. She received a stem cell transplant from an umbilical cord donor, using only twenty-five milliliters of blood. Combined with chemotherapy, the blood stem cell transplant could be her key to a healthy future. New white blood cells will be produced by the inserted stem cells to fight infection. Previously, umbilical cord blood stem cells take longer to reproduce and function in the blood stream then bone marrow blood stem cells, but a recent advancement in Seattle has cut that time in half by manipulating the stem cells before they are transplanted into the patient. This development only adds to the list of the benefits of umbilical cord blood stem cells.

The banking and use of umbilical cord blood stem cells has skyrocketed this year, with more clinical trials happening every day to discover the versatility of these life saving cells. This new method will be a great alternative to helping patient through cancer therapy.  As the practice of stem cell therapy advances the fight against cancer will become an easier task for a patient.

Copyright © 2012 Alex Martin MD & Francesca Coxe, Los Angeles. Edited by Devin Stone


Boyles, Salynn. “Stem Cell Treatment for Leukemia Improved.” WebMD. WebMD, 19 Jan. 2010. Web. 21 June 2012. .

Genetic Science Learning Center. “Stem Cells In Use.” Learn.Genetics 21 June 2012

Pooran, Neil. “Transplant for Aillidh, 8, Who Is Battling Deadly Leukaemia.” Deadline News. N.p., 23 May 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. .

Rogers, Holly. “Umbilical Cord Donor Centre to Open at Birmingham Women’s Hospital.” BioNews. BioNews, 06 June 2012. Web. 21 June 2012. .

Swierzewski, Stanley J. “Leukemia & Stem Cell Transplantation.” Remedy’s Health Communities. Remedy Health Media, 24 May 2011. Web. 21 June 2012. .



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