Stem cell therapy and leukemia

Leukemia is the 10th most common cancer in men and the 12th most common cancer in females in UK[1]
There are 9,900 new leukemia cases in the UK every year[1]
Only 46% of leukemia patients survive for 10+ years[1]
Leukemia survival rate has quadrupled in the last 40 years in the UK[1]
There are 4,600 leukemia deaths every year[1]
Leukemia diagnoses are expected to rise by 5% by 2035[1]

leukemia cases
diagnosed in the UK each year

What is a leukemia ?

Leukaemia is 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.[2]

This lack of immunity and gradual decrease in healthy red blood cells and platelets is what causes the symptoms of acute myeloid leukemia (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 leukemia and myelogenous leukemia . 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).[3]

Age and genetics are the primary factors in developing leukemia, although it can be caused by smoking, chemical and ionising radiation exposure, making 12% of cases preventable.[1]

Stem cell therapy research

Stem cell therapy is recognised as an effective treatment for certain cases of acute leukemia. It also lowers the risks associated with high doses of chemotherapy.

Haematopoietic 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.[4] In 2017, umbilical cord blood HSCs and progenitor-derived cells were transplanted into older patients with acute myeloid leukemia and significantly increased immune function.[5]

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