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Mini Cell Transplants for Cancer Treatment

By Sophie Goodchild, The Evening Standard, November 5, 2007

By utilizing mini cell transplants, a radical new cancer treatment has been developed by doctors.

The ground-breaking procedure involves taking donor blood, extracting stem cells from that blood, and injecting them into cancer patients.

An alternative to bone marrow operations, experts say the procedure is faster and safer than the current conventional method.

For leukemia patients who are too weak for intensive chemotherapy, doctors at Barts and London who have performed trials on these patients say the treatment is a lifesaver.

Professor John Gribben, a cancer expert at the hospital, told the Standard: "This treatment is life-saving for patients who are too weak to undergo further chemotherapy and also means people don' t have to spend months in hospital."

The treatment removes the need for a painful bone marrow extraction procedure to be performed by doctors, and also reduces the amount of chemotherapy needed by patients.

Instead of bone marrow extraction, stem cells are encouraged to migrate from bone marrow into the blood stream thanks to the administration of a chemical.  The stem cells are extracted by a machine which is connected to the donor.  The cells are injected directly into the patient after they are collected by doctors.

Diseased bone marrow is repaired by the stem cells which find their way around with their own version of a "tracking system".

Besides cancer, problems with the heart, Alzheimer's. Parkinson's, autism, and many other conditions can be treated with stem cells.  Scientists say stem cells have tremendous potential to treat a plethora of conditions.

Because of their ability to generate healthy new tissue anywhere in the body, stem cells have huge potential as a human "repair kit".

Since rogue cells damage organs in cancer, stem cells have huge potential to repair the body in these cases.

The procedure marks the first time the technique has been tested on patients here, but mini cell stem transplants have already been used in the U.S. before.  Often successful, high doses of radiation therapy is the standard method of treating leukemia patients.

But patients are usually unable to undergo a bone marrow transplant if they initially have an aggressive form of the condition.  They are often left to weak by the repeated rounds of chemotherapy that are needed to combat the cancer.

A low dose of chemotherapy is all that is needed with the new method.  This allows the transplanted cells to take root by doing just enough to suppress the immune system.

Mini transplants were vital for these patients whose immune systems have virtually shut down said Gribben, who is professor of experimental cancer medicine at Barts and the London.

He said: "In the past people used to have to be in hospital for months.

"This way we've condensed the whole treatment down. The standard way of doing a transplant is to use high doses of chemicals but the mini transplant only uses low doses. People think of a transplant as a last resort but if you wait it's usually too late."

Cancer Research UK said it was a "significant" development. Cancer charities welcomed the breakthrough.

Josephine Querido, from Cancer Research UK, said: "This new approach to stem cell transplants in leukemia patients has the potential to save many lives in the future. The early results of Professor Gribben's pilot study are very exciting - this treatment now needs to be tested in a large scale clinical trial."


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