It is certain that cellular therapies are set to feature significantly in 21st-century medicine. Over the last 30 years, we have seen outstanding advancements in stem cell transplantation. The field of regenerative medicine, in particular, is continually evolving based on experience emerging from carefully controlled clinical trials.

One such innovation led by Dr. Kurtzberg’s team at Duke University Hospital, USA has built on the use of cord blood transplants to treat children with certain inherited metabolic disorders that can lead to abnormal or destroyed myelin, a material which covers and protects nerves in the nervous system.

The Duke team has shown that cord blood transplants can promote the regeneration of protective myelin in nerve sheaths in these patients. They have been able to identify the key cells within cord blood that facilitate this process. These cells are called DUOC-01 cells and they can be produced from cord blood in the laboratory.

It is well recognised that multiple sclerosis (MS), is a disease which causes damage to the myelin sheaths of nerves in the brain and spinal cord through a process called demyelination. The Duke team have expanded their work to investigate whether DUOC-01 cells might help patients with MS.  They have now started a phase I clinical  trial  using injections of DUOC-01 cells into the cerebral spinal fluid of adults suffering from the progressive form of this debilitating disease. 

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If the results in MS prove encouraging, it is possible that DUOC-01 could be applied to other conditions that cause myelin damage in the nervous system such as spinal cord injury and peripheral nerve damage. There may even be a role for this type of  therapy in Parkinson’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), and Alzheimer’s disease that can occur later in life.

 As the DUOC-01 product is manufactured from cryopreserved cord blood donations, those units already banked publicly could be used to help patients. There is also the potential for this exciting therapeutic option to be extended to privately banked cord blood in the future.