Umbilical cord blood, previously discarded, has been seen in more recent years as a useful source for blood stem cells. It contains haematopoietic stem cells that are usually found in bone marrow without any risk to the mother or baby and can shift into red cells, white cells, or platelets. They have been used for treating certain blood diseases since the late 1980’s – including multiple myeloma.
A 10-patient cohort study led by Dr. Jean Roy, hematologist and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of Université de Montréal, has been aimed at how to mitigate the risks associated with the treatment of multiple myeloma by improving safety and efficacy. The preferred treatment is called allografting, which grafts tissue from the same species, but not necessarily the same genotype.
However, allografting is associated with several side effects, the most significant being graft-versus-host-disease, a condition that arises when the donor cells attack the receiver’s organs. This complication has a 10-to-20 per cent mortality rate. In long-term survivors, immune system complications (up to 80 per cent of patients) and relapses (up to 50 per cent of patients) are still much too frequent. Allografting must therefore be refined to successfully treat a greater number of multiple myeloma patients.
Recently, a new molecule called UM171, discovered by Dr. Guy Sauvageau and his colleagues at Université de Montréal made it possible to increase up to 30 times the number of stem cells in umbilical cord blood in the laboratory and showed promising results in 22 patients primarily suffering from leukemia. Umbilical cord blood has a significantly lower incidence rate of immune system complications but is limited in its use on adults. Therefore, the study will be conducted on a cohort of 10 multiple myeloma patients who have a high risk of relapse and will be injected with the umbilical cord blood that has been grown with the UM171 molecule in hopes that there will be fewer complications. If the predicted results are confirmed, allografting umbilical cord blood, made possible thanks to the UM171 molecule, could become the preferred treatment for patients with multiple myeloma.
As multiple myeloma is still an incurable bone marrow cancer, with a life expectancy of five to six years after diagnosis, this research provides an opportunity to possibly extend life for these individuals.
This work, conducted at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, is funded by the Canadian Stem Cell Network, the Maryse and William Brock Chair for applied research in stem cell transplantation of Université de Montréal, and the biotechnology company ExCellThera.