Thousands of autologous stem cell transplants – those using one’s own stem cells from cord blood, bone marrow, and peripheral blood – are performed every year.
- Autologous (using one’s own stem cells) transplants are performed for diseases such as: Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, severe aplastic anemia, myeloma, Ewing’s sarcoma, neuroblastoma, brain tumors, and other solid tumors.
- Research from the Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that even with early-onset disease (within 12 months of birth), the child’s stem cells are viable for use in transplantation. In the study, an autologous stem cell treatment for infants with acute leukemia was just as successful as a sibling transplant.
Autologous cord blood stem cells have many advantages as a stem cell source, including no risk of graft vs. host disease (a leading cause of death for transplant patients). In addition, like all saved cord blood, it is available quickly and the stem cells have a low risk of having been affected by environmental damage or viruses.
Experimental treatments with cord blood focus on regenerative medicine – where doctors study the use of stem cells to repair damaged tissues and organs in the body. Currently, for these applications, a child’s own cord blood is required.
However, there are certain medical conditions that would not use autologous stem cells:
- Genetic Diseases: Cord blood stem cells may not be usable if the donating child has certain genetic diseases, such as sickle cell anemia. However, gene therapy, which uses the child’s own stem cells to deliver the corrected genetic element is being investigated. Gene therapy is still experimental and may never become clinically available.
- Certain Cancers: In earlier years of life, doctors may choose to not use a child’s own stem cells for treatment of certain cancers such as leukemia, due to the concern that an early onset may indicate a genetic component. However, if the cancer occurs later in life, the child’s cord blood stem cells may be preferable to their own adult stem cells collected during remission from the cancer. This is because of the risk of residual tumor cells in the adult stem cells, which may cause relapse.
In cases in which autologous stem cells cannot be used, a matched sibling’s cord blood is the next best option, which is one of the key reasons why it is important to bank cord blood for each child in the family.