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Cord blood – not just an alternative

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Daniel Gibson, Anthony Nolan’s Assistant Director of the Cell and Gene Therapy Service, talks about the enormous potential of cord blood as a starting material in research to help find new and innovative treatments for patients.

Over the last year, I have had the pleasure of meeting with researchers up and down the country and discussing the myriad of fantastic research that is currently taking place. It’s fascinating to hear the advances that are being made and the leaps in science before our very eyes. At Anthony Nolan, we are ambitious to support researchers and facilitate the next wave of treatment options to improve the outcomes and lives of our patients.

Supporting innovative research

I have worked at the Anthony Nolan Cell Therapy Centre in Nottingham for the last 10 years where we collect, process and store umbilical cord blood as a treatment for patients with blood cancer. We process and store over 1,400 cords a year and there are over 160 patients that have received a lifesaving transplant from us.

But we don’t work like other organisations. We don’t stop there because we know that innovation drives improvement, and improvements bring better treatment options and quality of life for patients. That’s why we redirect any collected cord blood units which aren’t suitable for clinical transplantation, due to the high cell content required, straight into research. To date, we have helped over 60 research groups gain access to research material for a wide range of research scopes, from grass roots academic research, to translational clinical therapies.

‘Have you thought about cord blood?’

I’ve been up and down the country having conversations to enable researchers to access vital starting material. As I’ve spent the last 11 years working in the cord blood field, I find myself asking ’have you thought about cord?’, or ‘maybe cord could be viable/cheaper alternative’ - and I’ll be honest, I’ve been selling it short! Cord is not just an alternative, but rather a valuable source of cells with unique properties that you won’t find in adult cells or induced cultures.  

It’s true that cord blood offers a readily available alternative source of haematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, as well as a rich source of Mesenchymal Stem cells. But on top of this, several studies have shown cord blood to be a unique material with the biological actions of the cells being slightly different and often better than adult derived cells.

For example, Hiwalker et al (Blood, 2015) demonstrates that cord blood derived T cells have an enhanced anti-tumour response compared to adult T cells with enhanced tumour homing. Having seen this work discussed at a conference, the speaker explained how phenotypically these cells are identical to adult T cells, but their responses and ability to proliferate are totally different.

Galieva et al (Front Pharmacol, 2017) also published a review indicating that cord blood is an excellent source of stem and progenitor cells able to exert a neuroprotective effect in neurodegenerative processes, and there are several clinical trials being conducted to further explore this.

The potential for cord

I’m confident we haven’t yet revealed all the potentials of cord blood and tissue, and the scope for advanced and regenerative therapies, coupled with the ease of access, makes it an ideal research focus and starting material. Cord blood offers a unique and not just an alternative source of cells which can further benefit patients.

If you’d like more information about accessing cord blood for research, please get in touch with the Anthony Nolan Cell & Gene Therapy team on