The Evolution of Cord Blood

By Shelley Bredin 3 weeks ago
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The Evolution of Cord Blood

Umbilical cord blood is rich in blood forming stem cells which are an alternative source of stem cells for bone marrow transplantation in the treatment of over 80 blood related disorders. Since the first cord blood transplant in 1988, to treat Fanconi Anaemia, the world of possibilities around the use of cord blood has grown exponentially, showing that the power of cord blood is immense. It not only is being used in the treatment of blood related disorders but is now proven effective in improving the motor skills of children with cerebral palsy and is being investigated for a number of other uses. Let’s take a journey through the years and highlight what has been achieved so far using umbilical cord blood.

In 1988,

the first cord blood (CB) transplant took place for a boy living with Fanconi Anaemia (a rare inherited disorder affecting the bone marrow and causing decreased production of all types of blood cells). He received cord blood from his baby sister and the transplant was done in Paris. Since this ground-breaking procedure, the use of CB has grown.

In 1993,

the world’s first CB transplant from an unrelated donor (allogeneic transplant) happened for a 2-year-old boy diagnosed with acute leukaemia. This was performed by Dr Joanna Kurtzberg, who has become instrumental in researching the uses of cord blood.

In 1995,

the first adult received a CB transplant for leukaemia.

In 1997,

an adult with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia, received the first “expanded” CB transplant – where the stem cell numbers in CB were expanded in the laboratory before they were used in the transplant for this patient.

In 1998,

the first person was cured of Sickle Cell Anaemia following a CB transplant.

In 2001,

a child diagnosed with eye cancer, found in both eyes and his spinal fluid, was treated following a transplant from his own stored cord blood stem cells. He was the first child treated by a transplant with his own cord blood (autologous transplant) that had been banked privately at his birth.

In 2004,

a 6-month-old was the first to receive an autologous CB transplant to cure a brain tumour called a medulloblastoma. Later that year, a 3-year-old girl received an autologous CB transplant to treat her acute leukaemia, after doctors tested the cord blood to ensure it did not contain the genetic mutations that were in the leukaemia cells.

In 2005,

the first experimental therapy using cord blood stem cells to treat a brain injury took place, for an infant with brain injury due to oxygen deprivation at birth. This was done at the Duke Medical Centre in the US, which has become a revolutionary institute for researching uses of cord blood stem cells in the treatment of brain injuries.

It was also determined that CB transplants can halt neurological damage caused by metabolic storage disorders as they help to create the enzymes that individuals with these disorders lack.

The first child diagnosed with cerebral palsy was treated with autologous CB to help improve his motor skills.

Netcells began offering stem cell banking through Smart Cells in the United Kingdom. This gave parents in South Africa the opportunity to store their baby’s stem cells in the UK.

In 2007,

it was discovered that stem cell transplants could teach the body to produce missing skin proteins when the first child with a rare and fatal skin disorder (epidermolysis bullosa) received a CB transplant.

By October 2009,

20 000 CB transplants had been performed around the world.

In September 2008,

Our state-of-the-art Netcells laboratory was built in Midrand, and we began offering cord blood banking in South Africa.

In July 2011,

Netcells received international accreditation with the American Association of Blood Banks (AABB) for the first time and was the first CB bank in Africa to receive this accreditation.

By September 2010,

the first 184 children had received autologous CB transplants to assist in the treatment of acquired neurological disorders, i.e. stroke, cerebral palsy, etc.

In 2011,

A paper was published which showed promising results in the treatment of children receiving autologous CB transplants following traumatic brain injury.

In 2012,

the first clinical trial investigating autologous CB transplants in treating autism began. This was due to the positive results that were seen in the treatment of brain injuries.

Later in that year, CB was proven to be an effective treatment of cerebral palsy.

In 2013,

A child diagnosed with Leukaemia and HIV received a CB transplant in an effort to cure him of both conditions. The donated CB came from a donor who carried a rare genetic mutation which provides a resistance to HIV.

Later in 2014,

research was published showing that CB stem cells that are cryopreserved for over 23 years can be thawed and the number of viable stem cells in the sample is unaffected by time.

By the end of 2015,

Over 100 surgeries had been performed on children with severe congenital heart defects who received autologous CB to support their cardiopulmonary bypass.

In 2015 and 2016,

Netcells released two CB units to Duke university for two Netcells families to take part in a clinical trial investigating the use of CB in the treatment of Cerebral Palsy.

Towards the end of 2017,

Over 40 000 cord blood transplants had been performed around the world.

Duke Medical Centre received FDA approval for an expanded access protocol allowing cord blood infusions from siblings or the patient to treat acquired brain disorders for children from around the world. There are currently thousands of children on the waiting list for this treatment.

In 2021,

Netcells launched their Community Bank in April to bridge the gap between private and public cord blood banking in South Africa. The Community Bank, which is different to the private bank, gives parents personal access to their cord blood samples, but also lists them on the South African Bone Marrow Registry in order to make them accessible to patients in need of a lifesaving transplant. Cord blood transplants remain a vital resource for patients that are not represented on bone marrow registries and/or possess rare genetic types.

In June 2021,

Gamida Cell determined that transplants using their expanded cord blood product are effective in treatment and can reconstitute an immune system faster than can be done with a bone marrow transplant.

From blood related disorders to traumatic brain injuries, the possibilities of cord blood seem vast. Cord blood remains a vital source of stem cells for the regeneration of bone marrow, but also holds great promise in treating brain related disorders. Cord blood expansion is showing huge potential and through this we believe we will see the number of adults who can benefit from cord blood transplants grow in leaps and bounds. Netcells is encouraged by all the developments that have taken place and is excited for what the future of cord blood holds.

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 Shelley Bredin

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