Umbilical-cord blood, now used mostly to treat children with leukemia, could save thousands of adults with the disease each year who cannot find bone marrow donors, two big studies indicate.
A European study found that those who got cord blood were just as likely to be free of leukemia two years later as those who got marrow transplants. A U.S. study looking at three-year survival yielded results almost as promising.
Cord blood offers an important advantage over marrow that makes it particularly valuable for use in transplants: Its stem cells are less likely to attack the recipient's body. But up to now, cord blood has been considered suitable only for children, because each donation has only about one-tenth the number of stem cells in a marrow donation.
The two new studies, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, suggest that is not a serious impediment.
Using cord blood could improve the odds of getting a transplant for the 16,000 U.S. adult leukemia patients each year who cannot find a compatible marrow donor, the U.S. study said.
Public cord blood banks need to quadruple their supply to find a match for every leukemia patient who needs one. But with 4 million births a year in this country, and most cord blood thrown away, that should not be a problem once more public money comes into play, doctors said.