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U researchers find two units of umbilical cord blood significantly reduce risk of leukemia recurrence

Michael Verneris, M.D. Acute leukemia patients who receive a transplant of two units of umbilical cord blood (UCB) instead of one have a significantly reduced risk of the disease returning, according to research led by two Department of Pediatrics faculty members.

Michael Verneris, M.D., and John Wagner, M.D., found that 19 percent of patients transplanted with two units of UCB had recurrent cancer compared with 34 percent of patients receiving one unit. They believe that this finding has the potential to change the current medical practice of using one unit of UCB for patients who are at high risk for recurrent blood and bone marrow cancers.

Blood and marrow stem cell transplantation has been the mainstay treatment for patients with high-risk leukemia and other blood cancers for the past 30 years. Now UCB is routinely used throughout the world as an alternative to bone marrow transplantation. But because of the limited number of cells in UCB, it has been reserved for young children and small adults.

The practice of using two UCB units (from two individuals) was pioneered at the University of Minnesota about a decade ago.

“We now know that without this double transplantation procedure, the majority of the patients treated would have had no other reasonable treatment option for their leukemia,” Verneris says. “The fact that they had less leukemia relapse was a wonderful surprise.”

This work was funded by the National Cancer Institute and Children’s Cancer Research Fund.

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