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U conducts first clinical test of stem cells expanded by new method

John Wagner, M.D. (Photo: Children's Cancer Research Fund)

University of Minnesota investigators have opened a Phase I clinical trial designed to test the safety and potency of blood-forming stem cells in umbilical cord blood (UCB) that previously have been multiplied in a new cell-culturing system.

Derrick Keller, an 18-year-old from St. Louis Park, Minn., who has acute lymphoblastic leukemia, was the first patient to enroll in the study. He underwent his transplant at the University on February 7.

Scientists at the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation in San Diego, Calif., recently discovered a lowmolecular- weight compound that promotes the expansion of blood-forming stem cells, the parent cells of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in November approved the initiation of a Phase I clinical trial using this new chemical compound. The University’s John E. Wagner, M.D., an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of UCB transplantation, is leading the trial.

UCB, the blood left in a placenta after the birth of a child, is increasingly being used as a source of blood-forming stem cells for transplant as part of the treatment of children and adults with a variety of life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, and myelodysplastic syndrome.

Expanding the number of UCB stem cells per unit could improve patients’ chances of finding a suitable match among the 750,000 UCB units available worldwide and speed up recovery from the transplant.

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