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Fundraiser Supports Umbilical Cord Stem Cell Research in Australia

Courier Mail Australia, April 26, 2007

The breakthrough that umbilical cord stem cells can help in the treatment of Leukemia patients has been among the most astonishing of all the discoveries in modern medical research.

Giving patients with blood-disorders another hope for a cure, researchers have discovered that normal bone marrow stem cells can be found in umbilical cord blood extracted from the cords of healthy babies.

A national charity called Inner Wheel Australia wants discoveries like the one mentioned above to continue. That is why they have held an event called “Coin for a Cord Day” for the past few year to raise funding support for the dedicated researchers contributing to this field.

Professor Kerry Atkinson of the Mater Medical Research Institute recently accepted a grant from Inner Wheel. He heads a team of individuals in Australia who have positioned themselves at the forefront of cord blood research.

Atkinson says that it is imperative that cord blood research continues since it has become a life-saving choice for so many individuals.

“For some people with life-threatening diseases like leukemia, a bone marrow transplant from a normal living tissue-matched donor is their only curative option,” Professor Atkinson said.

“If no tissue-matched living donor is available, a unit of cord blood from the Australian or an overseas cord blood registry can be used as a source of normal bone marrow stem cells.”

Auscord oversees banking and cryopreservation of cord blood samples in Australia.

Australia is home to three separate banks, and one is located at Mater Hospital itself (Queensland Cord Blood Bank in South Brisbane)

Samples have been sent as far away as Europe, and the Queensland Bank has stored more than 4000 individual cords since 1999.

Improving the treatment outcomes for patient’s receiving cord blood transplants is the main focus of Professor Atkinson and his team’s current research.

“One of the problems with cord blood transplants is the slow rate of recovery of the blood count after the transplant,” Professor Atkinson said.

“This puts the recipient of the cord blood transplant at risk of infection and hemorrhage. We are exploring the possibility that another type of stem cell (called a mesenchymal stem cell) can accelerate the recovery of the blood count after a cord blood transplant, if co-transplanted with the cord blood cells. Mesenchymal stem cells are involved in tissue repair and regeneration, including the regeneration of hematopoietic stem cells.”

Patients occasionally have a low blood count after transplants. Increasing the chance for a stable recovery, he said that he could potentially cut down on this risk.

Professor Atkinson has a long history working with transplants. Royal Marsden Hospital is a dedicated cancer hospital in the United Kingdom, and Atkinson was involved with the first bone marrow transplant performed there in the 1970’s.

Later, he worked in the U.S. biotechnology industry before moving to Australia three-and-a-half years ago. He established himself at Mater by splitting time between a clinical practice and medical research.

For the past two years, he has been preoccupied with the mesenchymal stem cell project.

Professor Atkinson said a person heading such an important project required, “the ability to organize a team of people so that the scientific and medical objectives are realized but at the same time the work environment is fun and all individual careers are advanced”.

Tomorrow, "Coin for a Cord Day" will be held as a national event.


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