UVA recently performed the first two stem cell transplants in Virginia, using non-embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood. The Stem Cell Transplant Program offers both bone marrow and stem cell transplants, with a focus on cord blood, to treat leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and other blood diseases.
The outcome isn't known yet, but in both patients the stem cells began producing new cells 14 days after the transplant instead of the 24 to 28 days it usually takes.
The cord blood comes from placentas that otherwise would be discarded following childbirth; its benefits include sidestepping ethical issues of embryonic stem cells; they're easier and faster to collect than stem cells from other sources; and they are immune tolerant (this means that they won't attack other cells in the body and match doesn't have to be exact).
Speed is important because there is a narrow window of opportunity to perform a transplant when a patient's disease is in remission.
The program is led by Mary Laughlin, who heads up a team of 29, including 4 other transplant physicians who started seeing patients in September. The program had anticipated doing 15 transplants in first year; now expects to do 100.
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