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Tuesday, 25 June 2024

LMRUK: The importance of stem cells in the fight against blood cancer

STEM cell transplants can currently be used to treat over 80 life-threatening illnesses and diseases, including blood cancer. 

This is why Leukaemia & Myeloma Research UK (LMRUK) invests in specialist research to examine how stem cells can be used as a more effective treatment for this form of cancer, as well as raising awareness of stem cell banking. 

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are produced by bone marrow and can divide themselves to produce more. They can also change into specialised cells, such as blood cells. 

There are two types of stem cells: 

Embryonic stem cells can develop into any type of cell such as a skin cell, heart or liver.

Adult stem cells generate the cell types of the tissue in which they reside. For example, a blood-forming adult stem cell in the bone marrow normally creates a new generation of blood cells. 

Stem cell transplants in the treatment of blood cancer

For the three most common types of blood cancer; leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma, a stem cell transplant can be used as a type of treatment. 

Stem cell transplants are used when the bone marrow is damaged and no longer able to produce healthy blood cells. They can also be carried out to replace blood cells that are damaged or destroyed as a result of intensive cancer treatment. 

A successful stem cell transplant will replace any damaged or diseased cells with new, healthy stem cells. 

There are two types of stem cell transplants:

Autologous is the transplantation where stem cells are removed from a person, stored, and later given back to that same person after a high dose of chemotherapy. 

Allogenic is where the donor and the recipient of the stem cells are different people. The stem cells from the donor have to be a match to the recipient. 

Cord blood stem cell banking

The umbilical cord and placenta are rich in vital cord blood stem cells, which can be used as a source of treatment for blood cancer. 

One of the biggest misconceptions is that you can’t bank cord blood if you have delayed cord clamping, which allows more blood to flow to the baby after delivery. However, they are not mutually exclusive and parents can choose to do both. 

The stem cells are taken at no harm or risk to the mother and baby and, if banked privately, the cord blood stem cells are readily available for the child to use in the future if needed – there is no need to search for a donor. 

Cord blood stem cell banking with LMRUK

In 2015, LMRUK launched the Model Cell Biobank which allows qualifying families to bank their newborn baby’s umbilical cord blood stem cells through the UK’s first part-funded and fully-funded service. 

LMRUK has partnered with Smart Cells International, the UK’s first private stem cell storage company, to support families to safely procure, process and store cord blood stem cells using the Model Cell Biobank service.

Dr Joanna Tilley, Operations Director at LMRUK said:

“Smart Cells is a perfect partner for LMRUK. We’re both committed to utilising stem cells as a treatment for blood cancer and life-threatening illnesses and want to help protect the next generation through more effective treatments.”

For more information about the Model Cell Biobank and to see if you qualify for full or part-funding, visit: lmruk.org/model-cell-biobank-service/. 

Becoming a stem cell donor

Peter McCleave, a husband and father of two young boys, was diagnosed with incurable cancer in 2017 and, after being told he only had seven years to live unless he could find a suitable stem cell donor, he took matters into his own hands. 

He said:

“The chance of finding a match for me is slim, but it doesn’t need to be that way for everybody.”

Peter launched the 10,000 Donors campaign, which encourages people to sign up and send a sample to see if they could be a possible match for someone with blood cancer. The campaign has so far found 19 matches and exceeded its target of 10,000 sign-ups – so is now looking to reach 100,000. 

To join the 10,000 Donors campaign or for more information about Peter’s life-saving mission, please visit: 10000donors.com.

To learn more about LMRUK and the vital research they invest in, please visit: lmruk.org/ or sign up to join their mailing list here: lmruk.org/newsletter-communications

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