Health Team

FDA approves life-saving cord blood treatment at Duke

Posted October 9, 2012 5:21 p.m. EDT
Updated October 9, 2012 6:54 p.m. EDT

— The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently gave the green light for Duke University to use stem cells found in umbilical cord blood to treat cancer, blood disorders and inherited diseases. Doctors at Duke say the FDA approval is a huge victory that will help save lives both now and in the future.

When infants are born in hospitals across the state, many hospitals collect blood from the placenta through the umbilical cord. That stem cell-rich blood is sent to Carolinas Cord Blood Bank at Duke, which turns it into a treatment product called DUCORD.

Now that DUCORD has federal approval, it can be used on a regular basis.

"This is now accepted as a standard of care – no longer investigational – and it also enables us to explore other uses of cord blood," said Dr. Joanne Kurtzberg, director of Duke's pediatric transplant program.

The product is under study for helping repair brain damage in children, including 14-month-old Chase Howell, of Austin, Texas, who was born with hydrocephalus – a condition that causes a build-up of fluid on the brain.

When Chase's mother Leann Howell learned about her baby's condition before he was born, she banked his cord blood to help with treating any injury to the brain caused by the excess fluid.

After three DUCORD infusions at Duke, Howell is noticing big improvements in Chase's condition.

"After the last infusion, he started to just roll over, lift his head, things that he wasn't doing after he was 11 months old," she said.

Young stem cells can renew themselves and become specialized cells, which is proven to help children with cancer undergoing chemotherapy to replace blood cells and strengthen their immune systems.

In Chase's case, the hope is that the stem cells will replace any damaged brain cells, so he can meet developmental milestones and enjoy a more normal life.

The not-for-profit Carolinas Cord Blood Bank opened at Duke University School of Medicine in 1998 and is one of only three cord blood banks in the nation to receive FDA approval for similar stem cell products.