- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Blood from a human umbilical cord that had been frozen for more than 15 years was revived, and able to grow and expand in laboratory mice, suggesting that specimens preserved for that long could restore the bone marrow in cancer patients, experts say.
Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine said yesterday that human cord blood frozen in 1985 and 1986 was able to grow in laboratory cultures with the same vigor as fresh cord blood.
Hal E. Broxmeyer a professor of microbiology and immunology and a pioneer in freezing cord blood said the experiment suggests strongly that such cells frozen for a decade and a half can be used successfully to treat patients.
Earlier studies had suggested that five years was the limit, he said.
"We showed we could take the cells after defrosting and have them expand extremely well, as well as if we had used fresh cord blood," Mr. Broxmeyer said. He is the first author of a study appearing this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Blood extracted from the umbilical cord after birth contains stem cells that can develop into bone-marrow cells.
Since 1989, cord blood has been used to restore the bone marrow of cancer and leukemia patients whose natural bone marrow had been destroyed by radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
When compatible bone-marrow transplants are available, doctors can use stronger drugs and radiation to attack the cancer and are, thus, more likely to arrest the disease. Restoring bone marrow using cord blood has been performed more than 2,000 times worldwide. Experts say the success rate is comparable to compatible bone-marrow transplants.
Celso Bianco of America's Blood Centers, an organization of blood and bone-marrow banking companies, said the research finding "is very important" for expanding the availability of material for bone-marrow transplants.
"Only in recent years have institutions started collecting cord blood to restore the bone marrow of patients," Dr. Bianco said. "As these repositories grow, you'll have more chances of finding a match" for patients.
But Dr. Bianco said that the Broxmeyer study is still experimental, and that 15-year-old cells would have to prove themselves in clinical use before such a lengthy cryopreservation is accepted by other experts in the field. But he said the new study may prompt doctors to use long-frozen cells for patients who are in dire need and have no other alternative.
In the study, Mr. Broxmeyer's team, along with two researchers from the National Institutes of Health, thawed blood that had been taken from umbilical cords and frozen for 15 years, and tested it for viability. They found that the cells could be grown in laboratory culture and that specimens removed from that culture could be grown into a new colony.
The researchers also put thawed cells into laboratory mice bred to have a flawed bone-marrow system and no immune system. Mr. Broxmeyer said the long-frozen human cord blood cells thrived in the mice and grew bone-marrow cells.
"We were able to get engraftment in those mice as good as we get from fresh cord blood samples," he said.
Asked whether he could recommend that human cord blood frozen for such a long time be used for patients in need, he said, "Yes, I could."

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