Leukaemia and Stem Cells
Leukaemia is a cancer of the blood of which there are four main types:
- Acute lymphoblastic (ALL)
- Chronic lymphocytic (CLL)
- Acute myeloid (AML)
- Chronic myeloid (CML)
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the most common type in children making up four-fifths of all childhood diagnoses. 
- Although this condition is the most common cancer of childhood, more than 9 in 10 cases are diagnosed in adults 
- Around 460 new cases are diagnosed each year in children in Great Britain 
- Worldwide, around 352,000 people were estimated to have been diagnosed with the disease in 2012, with incidence rates varying across the world 
- In the UK in 2012, around 4,800 people died from leukaemia, that’s 13 people every day 
- In the 1970s, less than 5 in 100 of people diagnosed with leukaemia survived their disease beyond ten years, now it’s almost half 
Leukaemia and Stem Cells
Leukaemia was one of the first illnesses to be treated with stem cell transplants. When the disease is severe and needs to be treated with chemotherapy, a stem cell transplant can be used to replace the cancerous cells within the bone marrow and replace them with non-malignant blood forming cells.
Stem cell transplants are intensive and can leave patients vulnerable to infection and other complications, they are only considered when standard-dose chemotherapy fails to destroy the leukaemia. However, haematopoietic stem cell transplants have proven particularly useful for treating certain kinds of acute leukaemia.
Umbilical cord blood is a source of stem cells with great promise for leukaemia sufferers. Cord blood stem cells are more easily matched to patients than bone marrow stem cells and with less than 50% of patients in need of a stem cell transplant able to find a bone marrow donor; stem cells from cord blood can offer a lifeline.
At the time of writing there are 1422 clinical trials investigating the application of stem cells to treat this condition.
Leukaemia and Stem Cells in the headlines
- Frontiers in pediatrics, 7, 443. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2019.00443
- Lancet (London, England), 399(10322), 338–339. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00057-5
- Lancet (London, England), 399(10322), 372–383. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(21)02017-1
The information contained in this article is for information purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical expert. If you have any concerns about your health we urge you to discuss them with your doctor.