Waste not, want not

New UCSF, GE Healthcare to collaborate on umbilical cord blood project

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SAN FRANCISCO—Delivery rooms in hospitals have been thesites of miracles for decades, but now they might hold the potential formiracles of a different sort—and it won't be the mothers or doctors who are thefocus of the miracles.
It will be the umbilical cords.
The University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and theCell Technologies business of GE Healthcare Life Sciences have announced a new,$840,000, three-year collaboration aiming at using umbilical cord blood as asource of blood-forming stem cells to treat patients with diseases such asleukemia, lymphoma, myeloma or sickle cell anemia.
Each year in the United States alone, more than 14,000people are diagnosed with diseases that could be treated with a transplant ofhematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells. The best option for these patients isto replace the diseased blood cells with healthy ones, ideally with a stem celltransplant from the bone marrow or blood of a family member. Unfortunately,about 70 percent of patients lack a family donor, and matching unrelated donorsis difficult.
"We have patients who can't get optimal therapy because wecan't find a donor to provide a transplant," Dr. Andrew Leavitt, medicaldirector of the UCSF Adult Blood and Marrow Transplant Laboratory, said in apress release. "For these patients, it's a matter of life and death."
Leavitt, who will lead the project, noted that UCSFspecialists perform approximately 190 transplants each year, and the numberkeeps rising.
 The collaboration is being funded by a Discovery Grantawarded by the University of California's Office of the President, which isbeing matched with funds from GE Healthcare. The companies will be seekingchemical compounds that, when added to the stem cells and progenitor cells in cordblood, will increase their population. If they can find such compounds and makethe process successful, the number of transplanted cells should be large enoughto replace a diseased blood system with a healthy one. 
A limitation of cord blood is that while "cord bloodtransplants have been successfully carried out for many sick children," thetransplants do not provide enough stem cells for adult transplants, Dr. StephenMinger, global head of research and development for Cell Technologies at GEHealthcare, said in a press release. Finding a way to increase hematopoieticstem cells in cord blood, and make the transplants viable for adults, is"something that the world desperately needs," Minger added.
The blood remaining in umbilical cords and placentas afterbirth is an excellent potential source of hematopoietic stem cells, and it hasseveral advantages over other methods of procuring stem cells. Cord blood isfull of the stem and progenitor cells that create all other cells in the bloodsystem, including white and red cells and platelets, and it does not require asclose a match with the tissue type of the patient as bone marrow does. Also, itis free of the ethical debate that surrounds embryonic stem cells, as umbilicalcords and placentae are generally discarded as medical waste following birth.Lately, though, cord blood banks are being established in several countries sothat cord blood can be donated for future use.
GE Healthcare Life Sciences will supply an IN Cell Analyzer2000, a high-tech automated microscope that can screen large numbers ofchemicals for their effects on cells, says Minger, and the UCSF team, led byDr. Michelle Arkin, associate director of the Small Molecule Discovery Center,will conduct the laboratory research to screen their compound library forpotential candidates. The project's first year will be spent using ultra-fast,robotic technology to screen 120,000 chemicals, and the IN Cell 2000 will beused to narrow those down to a few potential candidates. In the second year,the scientists hope to move on to testing the best candidates to determinetheir results in the lab or in animals, and GE's Cell Factory will be used toproduce large quantities of cells for additional testing. The hope is that bythe end of the project, promising compounds will be on their ways to clinicaltrials.
"If compounds were identified that expand the number of stemand progenitor cells in a cord blood sample, and this was shown to beclinically viable, then this could revolutionize cord blood banking," saysMinger. "The implications for this emerging era of regenerative [medicine] arehugely exciting."

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