Stem cell therapy and leukaemia
diagnosed in the UK each year
What is a leukaemia?Leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the blood or bone marrow. It’s a progressive and fatal disease caused by a DNA mutation in the stem cells within bone marrow. This mutation results in an excessive production of abnormal leucocytes (white blood cells), which don’t have infection-fighting properties of healthy leucocytes.
This lack of immunity and gradual decrease in healthy red blood cells and platelets is what causes the symptoms of acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) – the most common and aggressive form of the disease. The most common symptoms include pale skin, fatigue, weight loss, bone and joint pain, frequent infections and fever-like temperature changes.
Other forms of the disease include lymphocytic leukaemia and myelogenous leukaemia. These are diagnosed depending on the type of white blood cells affected and how they function. They can be either acute (aggressive) or chronic (slow moving and harder to notice and diagnose).
Age and genetics are the primary factors in developing leukaemia, although it can be caused by smoking, chemical and ionizing radiation exposure, making 12% of cases preventable.
Stem cell therapy research
Stem cell therapy is recognised as an effective treatment for certain cases of acute leukaemia. It also lowers the risks associated with high doses of chemotherapy.
Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) found in umbilical cord blood and bone marrow produce healthy blood-forming stem cells. When performed alongside chemotherapy, an infusion of healthy blood-forming stem cells restores function in bone marrow.
While it is most common for stem cells to be donated, autologous stem cell transplants are on the rise, where a patient’s own blood/bone marrow stem cells are used. Autologous stem cell transplants are easier for the patient to tolerate and have lower risks on complications.
In 2019, a baby in the UK received a successful stem cell transplant using umbilical cord blood HSCs. In 2017, umbilical cord blood HSCs and progenitor-derived cells were transplanted into older patients with acute myeloid leukaemia and significantly increased immune function.