UCL researchers have found a new method to make blood stem cells in the umbilical cord more transplantable based on their study in mice. This new method could be beneficial for the treatment of some blood diseases in children and adults. The research, published in the journal ‘Cell Stem Cell,’ explains how a protein named NOV/CCN3, usually present at low levels in the blood, can be used to increase the number of HSCs in single umbilical cord blood units that can be used for transplantation. Blood stem cells, also named hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs), are responsible for every type of cell found in blood, i.e., platelets, red cells, and white cells, and regulate blood production through life.
The umbilical cord is typically used as a source of blood stem cells in the treatment of certain cancers or genetic blood disorders, wherein it becomes necessary to replace the bone marrow by allogeneic stem cell transplantation. Cord blood transplants entail fewer long-term immune complications as compared to bone marrow transplants. Even with umbilical cord transplants having been used in children for the past three decades, cord blood units do not contain sufficient HSCs to be suitable for older children and adults, and 30% of all units have limited cells even for the youngest children, and are rendered useless. The first author of the study, Dr. Rajeev Gupta, Clinical Associate Professor, UCL Cancer Institute, explains that attempting to increase the actual number of HSCs found in a cord blood unit is not only expensive but also challenging. It is believed that not all HSCs in a cord blood unit can or will transplant, indicating that cord blood units have ‘untapped transplantation potential,’ adds Dr. Gupta.
With the help of cell cultures and mouse models, the UCL Cancer Institute researchers observed that umbilical cord blood units that were exposed to the protein NOV showed substantially higher transplantation potential as opposed to regular samples. They found that t the frequency of functional HSCs in the sample escalated six-fold. Notably, these effects were possible after only eight hours of exposure. In the next stage, the team plans to implement the research findings in a clinical setting to explore its benefits for patients with blood cancer or blood disorders.
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