Study finds life-saving uses for umbilical, placental blood


NEW YORK -- Blood from a newborn infant's umbilical cord and placenta, normally discarded in the delivery room, can provide urgently needed treatment for patients with leukemia and other diseases that damage the blood and immune system, scientists reported yesterday.

In a study published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, and announced at a news conference at the New York Blood Center in Manhattan, researchers from Duke University and the blood center said blood from the umbilical cord and the placenta had successfully taken the place of bone-marrow transplantation in 25 patients, mostly children.

All were critically ill, and the experimental procedure was undertaken as a last resort because medically compatible marrow donors could not be found for them.

The patients needed marrow to replace their stem cells, which had been destroyed by disease or cancer treatments, the researchers said. Those cells are crucial because they give rise to both blood and immune-system cells. Placental blood can take the place of bone marrow because it, too, is rich in stem cells.

Also, transplanted stem cells from placental blood are less likely to be rejected than those from bone marrow, the researchers said, and even more important, they are less likely to cause a potentially fatal illness, graft-vs.-host disease, brought on when the patient's cells attack transplanted tissue.

Listing other advantages, Dr. Pablo Rubinstein, head of immunogenetics at the blood center, said that placental blood was far less likely than bone marrow to carry infections; that it could be collected easily and without risk to the donors; and it could be frozen and kept in blood banks.

"Initially, we see this procedure as a great supplement to what we can offer from the registry of bone-marrow donors," Rubinstein said.

If it proves reliable, he said, it could eventually surpass bone-marrow transplantation.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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