Category Archives: Cord Blood

Special type of stem cells could help heal hearts

About 5.8 million Americans have heart failure, a condition that occurs when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Now, researchers say a special type of stem cell may be the key to repairing these hearts. Golf has always been a big part of Ron Signorelli’s life.

“I started when I was ten,” Ron said.  Painted heart

However, Ron’s congestive heart failure was keeping him away from his favorite pastime.

“I was in the hospital over 20 times,” Ron said.

Ron’s heart pumped only 15 percent of blood. He needed help fast.

“There’s a large number of patients out there that are really in this situation where they’re gone past what normal medical therapy can do, but yet they’re not sick enough or don’t qualify for a heart transplant,” Timothy D. Henry, MD, Director of Research Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation said.

Now, a new approach can help patients like Ron. First, doctors extract bone marrow stem cells from the patient. Then, they grow the cells to enhance their healing ability. Those cells are then injected directly into the patient’s heart.

“Our hopes are we improve the quality of their life, as well as the length of their life,” Dr. Henry said.

In the first clinical trial, the treatment was safe, repaired damaged heart muscles, and even appeared to reverse some heart failure symptoms. Ron had 12 injections and hasn’t been to the hospital since.

“I certainly feel good. I’m a very active person,” Ron said. Now, nothing stops his stride. “When the weather is nice, I’ll play three, four times a week,” Ron explained.

Researchers are planning enrollment for the second phase of this trial at about 30-sites across the U.S. Once the results are assessed, the treatment will likely be more widely available. This therapy would not replace a heart transplant, but may delay or prevent the need for transplantation in the future.

Source: Margot Kim,


Use stem cells for custom blood vessels

Engineers have coaxed stem cells into forming networks of new blood vessels, then successfully transplanted them into mice.  bloodvessels_1

“That these vessels survive and function inside a living animal is a crucial step in getting them to medical application,” says Sravanti Kusuma, a biomedical engineering graduate student at Johns Hopkins University.

The human stem cells used in the experiment were made by reprogramming ordinary cells, so the new technique could potentially be used to make blood vessels genetically matched to individual patients and unlikely to be rejected by their immune systems, investigators say.

Human blood vessel networks, in red, grown in a lab from stem cells and then transplanted into a mouse, are seen incorporating themselves into and around networks of the mouse’s vessels, in green. (Credit: PNAS)

Custom-made blood vessel networks could help patients with burns, complications of diabetes, or other conditions that compromise blood flow.

“In demonstrating the ability to rebuild a microvascular bed in a clinically relevant manner, we have made an important step toward the construction of blood vessels for therapeutic use,” says Sharon Gerecht, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering.

Blood vessels have previously been grown in the laboratory using stem cells, but barriers remained to efficiently producing the vessels and using them to treat patients.

For the latest study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers focused on streamlining the process. Where other experiments used chemical cues to get stem cells to form cells of a single type, or to mature into a smorgasbord of cell types that the researchers would then sort through, Kusuma devised a way to get the stem cells to form the two cell types needed to build new blood vessels—and only those types.

“It makes the process quicker and more robust if you don’t have to sort through a lot of cells you don’t need to find the ones you do, or grow two batches of cells,” Kusuma says.

Elegant use of cells

A second difference from previous experiments was that instead of using adult stem cells derived from cord blood or bone marrow to construct the network of vessels, Gerecht’s group teamed with Linzhao Cheng, a professor in the Institute for Cell Engineering, to use induced pluripotent stem cells as their starting point.

Since this type of cell is made by reverse-engineering mature cells—from the skin or blood, for example—using it means that the resulting blood vessels could be tailor-made for specific patients.

“This is an elegant use of human induced pluripotent stem cells that can form multiple cell types within one kind of tissue or organ and have the same genetic background,” Cheng says.

“This study showed that in addition to being able to form blood cells and neural cells as previously shown, blood-derived human induced pluripotent stem cells can also form multiple types of vascular network cells.”

To grow the vessels, the research team put stem cells into scaffolding made of a squishy material called hydrogel. The hydrogel was loaded with chemical cues that nudged the cells to organize into a network of recognizable blood vessels made up of cells that create the network and the type that support and give vessels their structure.

This was the first time that blood vessels had been constructed from human pluripotent stem cells in synthetic material.

To learn whether the vessel-infused hydrogel would work inside a living animal, the group implanted it into mice. After two weeks, the lab-grown vessels had integrated with the mice’s own vessels; the hydrogel had begun to biodegrade and disappear as designed.

One of the next steps, Kusuma says, will be to look more closely at the 3D structures the lab-grown vessels form. Another will be to see whether the vessels can deliver blood to damaged tissues and help them recover.

The study was funded by the American Heart Association, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Science Foundation.


Source: Shawna Williams, Johns Hopkins, Johns Hopkins University

Mayo Clinc puts stem cells to the test on infant heart defect

Every year, about 1,000 babies are born in the United States with half a heart — a rare defect that requires a series of risky surgeries and, even then, leaves the infants with a strong likelihood that their hearts will wear out prematurely. heart_525

Now, the Mayo Clinic has received federal approval for a first-of-its kind clinical study to see if stem cells from the babies’ own umbilical cords can strengthen their underdeveloped hearts and extend their lives.

If it works, the new technique could buy these children time as scientists scramble for a cure for the congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).

The Mayo study, which will begin as soon as 10 eligible candidates can be enrolled, could also pave the way for additional breakthroughs in stem cell treatments that would help the 19,000 children born each year with other heart defects. But for the time being, the doctors at Mayo are keeping their focus on those babies who need the most help now.

“We are not here to build an academic career out of science and technology,’’ said Dr. Timothy Nelson, director of Mayo’s HLHS research program. “We’re really here to make a difference in children’s lives who are living today with unmet needs.”

Christina DeShaw of Clive, Iowa, was pregnant with fraternal twins when she learned during an ultrasound procedure that the left side of her daughter’s heart was not developing properly.

“The world just started spinning,” DeShaw said. “Our lives were forever changed from that moment on.”

DeShaw and her husband, Brad Weitl, sought help from the Mayo Clinic for the baby they named Ava Grace.

They learned that children born with defects on the left side of the heart must undergo a series of three complex surgeries. The first is called the Norwood procedure: Within a few days of birth, surgeons reconstruct the heart so that the fully developed right ventricle can do both its own work of supplying blood to the lungs and the work of the defective left ventricle, which ordinarily would pump oxygenated blood back to the body.

Dr. Harold Burkhart, who is overseeing surgeries in Mayo’s new study, said that when the procedure was developed in 1983, only about 30 percent of the patients survived. About 70 percent survive now, he said, and at Mayo, about 9 out of 10 make it through.

The second and third surgeries are much safer. They involve rerouting blood from the body directly to the lungs, bypassing the heart entirely to reduce the workload of the right ventricle.

Ava Grace Weitl was born by Caesarean section on May 8, 2012, then whisked away for her first surgery. “Her heart was the size of a walnut,” DeShaw said. “She had less than a 40 percent chance of making it.”

Ava remained under intensive care until Labor Day. DeShaw, who works at ING Financial Partners in Des Moines, spent months living in a Rochester hotel; her husband, a construction estimator, drove up on weekends. But their trauma didn’t stop when they finally took their daughter home. Ava has suffered numerous complications and once had to be flown back to Mayo in a helicopter.

Unfortunately, Ava won’t be eligible for the stem cell trial: The design calls for stem cells to be injected into the right ventricle during the second surgery, and Ava has already had hers.

Still, Ava’s parents remain dedicated to helping with Mayo’s research. “We wanted to participate, not only because we thought that at some point Ava might benefit, but we also wanted to help all the other babies … and to try to give them the best shot,’’ DeShaw said.

Seeds of life

Cardiac stem cell treatments were pioneered in adult patients. Worldwide, some 5,000 to 6,000 people have received stem cell treatments for heart conditions, but those procedures relied on cells taken from the patients’ bone marrow, said Dr. Atta Behfar, one of Mayo’s leading researchers in the field.

Behfar, working with Dr. Andre Terzic, a Mayo cardiovascular specialist, found that stem cells typically lose their vitality as they age and apparently become “sick” along with the patient. Mayo just finished a clinical trial in Europe showing that they could kick-start those cells in a way that significantly improves the patient’s health, cuts treatment costs and improves quality of life.

Nelson said he thinks stem cells taken from umbilical cord blood and placed into a growing heart will prove even more effective.

“I think of stem cells as seeds,” Nelson said. “If you plant that seed into a rocky, dry soil, that seed may not grow nearly as well as if you plant it into a black, rich, fertile soil that gets watered, irrigated and fertilized,” he said. “And so we think of this as planting these seeds into that fertile soil of a pediatric heart.”

Also, Nelson said, stem cells from the umbilical cord seem to know when to stop producing heart cells, so they don’t create the same cancer concerns that have been associated with the use of “pluripotent” embryonic cells or bioengineered cells in adult hearts.

Too few hearts

Nelson dedicated himself to finding a cure for hypoplastic left heart syndrome when he was studying to become a pediatric heart surgeon. He said it tore him up to know that babies who endured three open heart surgeries would often return as young children with irreparable heart damage and little likelihood of finding a donor heart in time to save them.

Some research suggested that half the children with HLHS don’t make it to their 5th birthday, Nelson said, but there are also children living into their early 20s. “So there are wonderful success stories of the surgical practice,” he said. “But obviously, the percentage of kids born that make it to that stage is far too low.”

Joshua and Sandra Hughes of Ashburn, Va., said they learned about Mayo’s pediatric heart research from a friend. Their 5-year-old daughter, Jaclyn, also has HLHS, and although she gets treated in Washington, D.C., they volunteered to participate in Mayo’s research program.

Jaclyn underwent an MRI last week, and she and her parents each contributed skin tissue for genetic testing and other research. Mayo’s Dr. Patrick O’Leary thanked them for spending two days in Rochester undergoing tests; he showed them images from Jaclyn’s scan and said her heart is performing quite well after her third surgery.

“The stuff they’re working on now may not be available for Jackie,” Sandra Hughes said. “But it may be available for the next generation.”

O’Leary interrupted her, voicing his optimism for the Mayo research.

“It may be available for her, too,” he said.


Source: Dan Browning, Star Tribune, Ashley Griffin, Kaiser Health

First Successful Treatment of Pediatric Cerebral Palsy With Autologous Cord Blood: Awoken from a Persistent Vegetative State

Cord Blood Bochum’s medics have succeeded in treating cerebral palsy with autologous cord blood. Following a cardiac arrest with severe brain damage, a 2.5 year old boy had been in a persistent vegetative state — with minimal chances of survival. Just two months after treatment with the cord blood containing stem cells, the symptoms improved significantly; over the following months, the child learned to speak simple sentences and to move.

“Our findings, along with those from a Korean study, dispel the long-held doubts about the effectiveness of the new therapy,” says Dr. Arne Jensen of the Campus Clinic Gynaecology. Together with his colleague Prof. Dr. Eckard Hamelmann of the Department of Paediatrics at the Catholic Hospital Bochum (University Clinic of the RUB), he reports in the journal Case Reports in Transplantation.

The parents searched the literature for treatment options

At the end of November 2008, the child suffered from cardiac arrest with severe brain damage and was subsequently in a persistent vegetative state with his body paralyzed  Up to now, there has been no treatment for the cause of what is known as infantile cerebral palsy. “In their desperate situation, the parents searched the literature for alternative therapies,” Arne Jensen explains. “They contacted us and asked about the possibilities of using their son’s cord blood, frozen at his birth.”

“Threatening, if not hopeless prognosis”

Nine weeks after the brain damage, on 27 January 2009, the doctors administered the prepared blood intravenously. They studied the progress of recovery at 2, 5, 12, 24, 30, and 40 months after the insult. Usually, the chances of survival after such a severe brain damage and more than 25 minutes duration of resuscitation are six per cent. Months after the severe brain damage, the surviving children usually only exhibit minimal signs of consciousness. “The prognosis for the little patient was threatening if not hopeless,” the Bochum medics say.

Rapid recovery after cord blood therapy

After the cord blood therapy, the patient, however, recovered relatively quickly. Within two months, the spasticity decreased significantly. He was able to see, sit, smile, and to speak simple words again. Forty months after treatment, the child was able to eat independently, walk with assistance, and form four-word sentences. “Of course, on the basis of these results, we cannot clearly say what the cause of the recovery is,” Jensen says. “It is, however, very difficult to explain these remarkable effects by purely symptomatic treatment during active rehabilitation.”

In animal studies, stem cells migrate to damaged brain tissue

In animal studies, scientists have been researching the therapeutic potential of cord blood for some time. In a previous study with rats, RUB researchers revealed that cord blood cells migrate to the damaged area of ​​the brain in large numbers within 24 hours of administration. In March 2013, in a controlled study of one hundred children, Korean doctors reported for the first time that they had successfully treated cerebral palsy with allogeneic cord blood.


Source:, Rhur-Universitaet-Bochum

The Value of Cord Blood Stem Cells in Healthcare and Research


Currently, cord blood is most commonly used in the treatment of childhood leukemia.  Cord blood offers advantages over treating the disease with bone marrow transplants. In an earlier blog titled “UC Davis Set to Launch California’s First Public Umbilical Cord Blood Bank,” we outlined some of the primary advantages of using cord blood over bone marrow including:

  • Shorter time from donor match to transplantation – Frozen cord blood cells can be shipped immediately.  With bone marrow donation, the donor has to be contacted, permission has to be given, and testing and collection has to be conducted before cells are available for transplant.
  • Cord blood is easy and painless to obtain – Bone marrow collection on the other hand can be painful for the donor and a potential donor has to be tested with their information on the registry to be selected as a match.  Unfortunately many people may be matches and don’t realize it.
  • Cord blood is easier to match donor and patient due to reduced immunogenicity in cells coming from a newborn – HLA matching is the method used when determining a match for transplant.  The process, used with both bone marrow and cord blood matching, looks at 6 proteins in the blood.  Bone marrow requires 5 of 6 proteins to match to be a donor, but in cord blood only 4 of 6 proteins have to match. It is estimated that around 25% of people needing a bone marrow match will not find it and cord blood donations could help reduce this percentage significantly.

Potential New Therapies for Disease

Cord blood stem cells are also being studied as a way to treat many diseases including, Juvenile (Type 1) diabetes, pediatric stroke, traumatic brain injury, Cerebral Palsy, Autism and many others. A few of the trials are described in more detail below:

  • A clinical study for traumatic brain injury (TBI) in pediatric patients. TBI is one of the leading causes of death in children and those that survive often have serious brain disabilities. A Phase I TBI study beginning at UT Health is using a patient’s own cord blood that was banked for them as newborns.  This study will enroll 10 children between the ages of 18 months and 17 years with moderate to severe TBI.  Treatment will be administered within 6-18 months of injury and will have safety as the primary endpoint.  Dr. Charles Cox, Director of the Pediatric Trauma Program at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and principal investigator, is leading the study.
  • A clinical study for Autism. The double blind, placebo controlled study, conducted by the Sutter Neuroscience Institute will enroll thirty children between the ages of 2-7 years old. Over thirteen months, the children will receive either two infusions of their own cord blood (banked at birth) or two infusions of placebo. There is evidence that some children with Autism suffer from a dysfunctional immune system and this study will examine whether the cord blood cells can help to repair the damaged immune system of these children.
  • A clinical study for Cerebral Palsy. Georgia Health Sciences University is conducting a placebo controlled study on forty children between the ages of 1-12. There is research in animals indicating that an infusion of stem cells can induce healing in the brain. This study will look at whether cord blood cells can help to repair damage in the brain.

Cord Blood Stem Cells for Research

One group conducting extensive research using cord blood is The University of California, Davis Institute for Regenerative Cures. The philosophy behind the UC Davis Institute is to bring together physicians, research scientists, biomedical engineers and other experts to work in disease teams all with a focus on moving research into clinical trials.  There are 14 disease teams that address every major area of the human body and the Institute has planned or initiated clinical trials in retinal occlusion, heart attack, peripheral vascular disease, bone repair and Huntington’s disease.  The Institute is also home to one of the largest GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) facilities for stem cells in the nation.  It has 7,000 square feet of space with a suite of six specially designed rooms created to safely process cellular and gene therapies for clinical trials.

A major research tool for the Institute is the use of neonatal stem cells in research applications.  The neonatal stem cells are collected from placental tissues and cord blood. Researchers at the Institute study neonatal cells in a number of ways.  One way researchers use these cells is to compare the neonatal cells of a newborn with any health problems they may have had at birth to see if there is a link on a cellular level.  They are also studying the environment of these cells in the placenta to find better ways to culture stem cells.  Perhaps the most revealing studies done on these cells are when researchers create “disease in a dish” scenarios.  One example conducted at the institute was on newborns at risk for Huntington’s disease. Researchers isolated hematopoietic stem cells from the cord blood of newborns at risk for Huntington’s disease.  The cells were cultured, induced into a pluripotent state and were differentiated into neurons.  By studying these neurons they could see if the neurons were developing normally and they could examine how the neurons responded to various drugs as a way to look for cures or to slow progression of the disease.  This “disease in a dish” model is applicable across a wide range of disease types and allows researchers to conduct extensive research about a disease without invasive patient procedures.

Potential Hurdles to Success

While there are many exciting opportunities available using cord blood there are also some challenges that need to be overcome. One of the primary challenges is that there the percentage of donors is very low. In the Fierce Biotech Research article, Dr. Mary Laughlin, a physician and expert in marrow and stem transplants at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, stated, “cord blood is only saved from about 4% out of all births. Those are very useful cells that are going in the trash.” One possible solution is a focus on educating parents on the value and importance of donating their child’s umbilical cord. Another important consideration is creating more public cord blood banks to collect, store, test, and register cells on donor registries.

Another possible challenge is the number of cells collected from each umbilical cord and the possibility that there may be an insufficient amount to provide the number of cells necessary for treatment. One possible solution would be to culture and expand the cells to increase the number of cells.  Another improvement could be the use of better, more consistent collection techniques and optimal culture to ensure the highest number of cells possible.

Source: bsargent,

Cord Blood stem cells being used to treat Cerebral Palsy in young children

cerebralpalsy-stem-cell-therapy By the time I’d finished the third paragraph of  “Medical trial offers Michigan families hope,” I knew I had to forward the story to Dr. David Prentice, who knows pretty much all there is to know about stem cell research. Written by Shawn Lewis of the Detroit News, it is a wonderfully inspiring story about Andrew Kijek, who will be infused with his own umbilical cord blood stem cells on Friday.

Andrew, who is 11, has spastic cerebral palsy and cannot crawl, walk, talk, hold his head upright. or control his muscles.

His mother, however, is able to see the bigger picture.

“He’s already perfect,” Maureen Kijek of Shelby Township, told Lewis after a recent physical therapy session. “We just want him to be happy.”

A clearly pleased Dr. Prentice got back to me immediately. He explained that the results of other trials and results, including from ongoing trials at Duke University and Georgia Health Sciences University, have been very encouraging.

“It’s wonderful to see more doctors recognize the potential of adult stem cells from umbilical cord blood for treating cerebral palsy in young children,” he said. “This is such a needed and simple application, and many young lives could be influenced by using these adult stem cells from cord blood.” Dr. Prentice cited the example of little Chloe Levine.

As Lewis explains only 5% of women save their newborn child’s umbilical cord blood, a rich source of potential help to treat various diseases. Maureen Kijek told Lewis that the decision was prompted by a family history of cancer.

“There’s a history of breast cancer — my mom died from it when I was 18, so I felt compelled to do it,” Kijek told the Detroit News. Lewis said Mrs. Kijek calls her decision a “whisper from God.”

The family is at the Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia for the first of four visits. “The stem cells will be thawed and reintroduced intravenously into his body Friday,” Lewis wrote, adding that Andrew’s mother is cautiously optimistic about the trial. “”We are super excited, hopeful and the timing just feels right,” Kijek said.

Allison Thurman, 3, was the first Michigan participant in the trial. In 2010 she, too was clinically diagnosed with spastic cerebral palsy. Since Allison completed the trial treatments a year ago, “her mother, Erica Thurman, said she has noticed improvement in her daughter’s speech and ability to use her legs,” Lewis wrote.

“’At first, she was only able to use her walker when we assisted her by holding her around the hips,’ Thurman said of her daughter. ‘Two weeks after the stem cell injections, she was pulling herself up on her walker.’

“Thurman said Allison’s speech also has dramatically improved.

“’Her vocabulary has increased, the clarity of her words, pretty much everything has improved,’ she said.”

Asked about the decision to store the cord blood stem cells and undergo  the treatment, Mrs. Thurmond said, “My husband and I feel it is the greatest gift we could provide our child,” adding, “We want our child to live a happy, fulfilling life and to be as active as she possibly can — physically active, whatever that is, to reach her maximum potential.”


Source: Dave Andrusko,

The jelly made from stem cells that might mend your wobbly knees

Doctors are using a type of jelly made from stem cells to treat arthritic knees. The stem cells, which are extracted from donated umbilical cord blood, appear to trigger the repair and re-growth of damaged cartilage. knee

A small study found the one-off treatment led to a 67 per cent improvement in cartilage repair, and researchers believe it could become an alternative to joint replacement surgery. Two clinical trials are under way assessing its effects.

Cartilage acts as a shock absorber in the joint, and provides a smooth surface that allows the bones to glide smoothly over each other. However, this layer can break down with age-related wear and tear, triggering pain and swelling — a condition known as osteoarthritis.

Once damaged, joint cartilage does not renew itself as easily as other tissues, as it is poorly supplied with blood vessels and nerves. Current treatments include painkillers, physiotherapy and steroids — or partial or total knee replacement. Around 40,000 of these procedures are carried out every year, but the hope is that stem cells may reduce this.

Stem cells are like blank slates, and can turn into a variety of different cells in the body. There are some stem cells found naturally in the knee, and while these can turn into cartilage cells, their number reduces with age and they become less efficient, so cannot cope with the damage. To overcome this, scientists extract stem cells from the knee, then increase their numbers in a lab before implanting them back into the knee.

However, this requires extraction and implantation, and due to the limited number of stem cells available, it seems only to repair small areas of damage.

The latest treatment is based on stem cells from donated umbilical cord blood. These are much more active than adult stem cells, and animal studies suggest they are better at producing cartilage.

Stem cells are removed from the blood then grown in a lab and turned into a gel-like material — the orthopedic surgeon uses keyhole surgery techniques to put the gel into the damaged area.

The treatment could be particularly suited to older patients as their own stem cell reserve is depleted

Researchers say this could be particularly suited to older patients (as their own stem cell reserve is depleted), as well as those with large areas of damage.

Following an early, small study involving ten patients in Seoul, there are now two trials under way with 50 people at Rush University in Chicago, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts, and at seven hospitals in Korea.

Professor Alan Silman, Medical Director of Arthritis Research UK, said: ‘Using stem cells from various sources to regenerate cartilage has huge potential.

‘Although the technology is still some way off being available for routine use, this is an area of research with substantial activity and could provide an alternative to surgical joint replacement in the future.’

Source: Roger Dobson,