CHEMOTHERAPY is a life saving treatment but it's not without risks. Now Australian scientists have found a way to make it safer using stem cells from umbilical cord blood.
In the weeks following chemotherapy, a patient's immune system is depleted because of a reduction in the number of white blood cells or neutrophils. This leaves the patient vulnerable to potentially fatal infections.
Now a new treatment developed from University of Queensland research is set to make chemotherapy safer by boosting the immune system immediately after treatment.
Professor Lars Nielsen and his team from the university's Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have developed a method of producing a therapeutic dose of white blood cells in a typical transfusion bag that can be given to patients immediately after chemotherapy.
Professor Nielsen said chemotherapy-induced neutropenia was life-threatening.
"It exposes them to infection and fever, which can lead to delays in treatment and reduction in chemotherapy dose intensity," he said.
The treatment most commonly used for neutropenia involves an injection of granulocyte colony stimulating factor, which stimulates the patient's own stem cells to expand and differentiate into neutrophils. But this is dependent on the number of stem cells in a patients bone marrow, which is significantly reduced after chemotherapy, and it takes time for the stem cells to mature into white blood cells.
"Our treatment instead avoids that 'at risk' period following treatment by extracting and separating stem cells from umbilical cord blood to produce a transfusion-ready therapeutic dose of white blood cells which can be administered to patients immediately after chemotherapy," Professor Nielsen said.
The technology is based on research by UQ's Professor Nielsen and Dr Emma Partridge; and Dr Nick Timmins, formerly of UQ and now based at CCRM, a Canadian leader in developing and commercialising regenerative medicine technologies and cell and gene therapies.