Our Cord Blood Research
Dr. Colleen Delaney is Director of the Center's Cord Blood Program.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is a world leader in the research of hematopoietic (blood) stem cell transplantation and its use as a treatment for blood cancers, hematological diseases and other conditions. Our work began by pioneering bone marrow transplantation and it continues today in our breakthrough research of cord blood transplantation.
The Center’s Cord Blood Program was launched in 2006. Since then, we have performed more than 200 transplants in patients with malignant and non-malignant diseases who range in age from less than 1 year to 71 years. These clinical trials have focused on improving transplant outcomes and also overcoming cord blood’s greatest hurdle.
Improving Transplant Outcomes
The laboratory and clinical research components of our Cord Blood Program work together and in collaboration with our colleagues across the Hutchinson Center to improve outcomes for cord blood transplant recipients. This collaboration emphasizes better understanding of how cord blood cells engraft (take hold in a patient), improving conditioning regimens, and developing standards of care for infection prevention. Our work has explored conventional as well as innovative approaches to achieving these goals. Outcomes for our patients reflect this effort, with survival rates equivalent to patients receiving unrelated donor bone marrow or peripheral blood hematopoietic cell transplants.
Expanding the Number of Cord Blood Stem Cells
Umbilical cords only contain a small volume of blood, and subsequently a small number of stem cells. This means cord blood transplants take longer to engraft in recipients and produce the white blood cells required to fight infection. This small number of stem cells in each unit of cord blood – fewer than are found in bone marrow or peripheral blood donations – is the primary hurdle to cord blood transplantation.
Based on findings from Dr. Irwin D. Bernstein’s lab at the Hutchinson Center and in collaboration with his group, Cord Blood Program Director Dr. Colleen Delaney has developed a breakthrough technique that significantly expands the number of stem cells in each donation. Clinical trials have shown that patients who receive these expanded cord blood cells as part of their cord blood transplant recover their infection-fighting white blood cells about twice as fast as patients receiving non-expanded cord blood transplants.
This research breakthrough not only means an improved cord blood transplant option for patients, but may also lead to a product that can be expanded, then stored and used off-the-shelf (without need for tissue typing) at any time. These expanded cord blood stem cells, which are being tested in clinical trials now, may also be used in conjunction with other therapies to provide patients going through transplant or chemotherapy with a bridge of infection-fighting cells while they wait for blood and immune system recovery.