Umbilical Cord Blood Stem Cell Technology
Chris - What's the motivation behind banking umbilical cord stem cells?
Soren - We learnt a few decades back that developing babies do not have any bone marrow, and that all of the stem cells that are responsible for producing bone marrow later in life are found circulating in the blood. So the blood of a new born baby has about ten times the concentration of stem cells that you find in the bone marrow. The idea is that if we can collect umbilical cord blood (after the baby is born), we can harvest the stem cells in the blood and use them as a replacement for bone marrow in a transplant situation. The blood is collected after the baby is born from an umbilical cord that would otherwise be thrown away. We cryogenically preserve the cells at minus 196 degrees Celsius under liquid nitrogen. Evidence suggests that if stored in this way, the stem cells should last indefinitely, although this is hard to prove. Researchers have shown, however, that, when stored in this way, the cells are just as viable after 15-20 years as the day they were first collected.
Chris - Say I have a condition that stem cells can treat. How would you treat me with your stored stem cells?
Soren - We would treat you in a similar way to how we treat a patient with bone marrow stem cells. You would undergo a course of chemotherapy to get rid of the diseased bone marrow in your body. We would then take out the umbilical cord cells that were stored earlier in life and infuse the cells into a vein. The cells circulate in the bloodstream for a short while before they home in on the bone marrow cavity, settle, and begin to produce a new bone marrow. This is exactly the same as in a new born baby. It also means that if you had cells from a female umbilical cord, you would have a female bone marrow for the rest of your life.
Huseyin - People are making huge claims about umbilical cord stem cells. It sounds like Cord Life is a big business and is sincere in what it is doing. What's your current thinking that we could take umbilical cord stem cells and make any tissue you like in the body?
Soren - I think it has a higher potential than we ascribe to it today. However, I don't think cord blood cells will make everything. We restrict ourselves to heart disease and bone marrow disease at the moment.
Chris - One of the constraints is that you only get a small number of stem cells from each umbilical cord. It's not enough to cure an adult. What technology do you have to help solve that problem?
Soren - We realise that this is a problem. We are currently about to start clinical trials on trying to grow umbilical cord stem cells. We are using what is known as the Cytomatrix technology. This technology was originally developed by NASA and is a material with a very large surface area to volume ratio. It was being used in space shuttle catalytic converters. When we looked at the material, we realised that the matrix looked very much like human bone marrow. The thinking was that if we could put the cells in an environment like they are used to, we might be able to expand the cells. We found that it worked. Laboratory and animal tests have been done and we are now at the point where we about to enter human clinical trials. We hope the clinical trails will finish in the next two years, so it will probably be about three to five years before this will become a standard therapy.