New way to multiply umbilical cord blood stem cells discovered

Researchers at the Stowers Institute of Medical Research have found another way to expand/multiply blood-forming, adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The discovery increases the potential of a single stem cell sample to treat more conditions.

In the study, researchers focused on a protein that affects haematopoietic stem cells’ ability to self-renew. When the function of this protein – called Ythdf2 – was temporarily reduced, the researchers noticed increased expansion of haematopoietic stem cells. They also noticed that reducing the levels of Ythdf2 didn’t change the types of cells that were produced.

Currently, the stem cells in cord blood can be used to treat immunity disorders, blood disorders, leukaemia and certain types of cancer. These conditions can also be treated using bone marrow stem cells as well as cord blood, but a matching bone marrow donor is harder to find. In the UK, only 69% of patients find an acceptable bone marrow donor match[1].

In comparison, adult stem cells from the umbilical cord blood offer a more likely chance of a match for more people. This is because there are less compatibility requirements than for a bone marrow transplant. If the research from the Stowers Institute progresses, these highly effective stem cells could go towards treating more adult conditions.

Zhenrui Li, PhD, of the University of Kansas Medical Center observed that their research approach helped avoid persistent DNA-related mutations, which could lead to the development of leukaemia or cancer cells. It is hoped that this new expansion technique for cord blood stem cells could be applied to other types of adult stem cells too.

This work represents a path forward by demonstrating the ability to reliably expand adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood in the laboratory without terminally differentiating the cells into more mature and relatively short-lived blood cells…These findings represent a major advance in the field and have significant potential to improve the outcomes of thousands of children and adults who undergo umbilical cord blood transplantation every year.

Joseph McGuirk, MD, University of Kansas Health System