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)

Leukaemia Facts

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia is the most common type in children making up four-fifths of all childhood diagnoses.  [2]
  • Although this condition is the most common cancer of childhood, more than 9 in 10 cases are diagnosed in adults [2]
  • Around 460 new cases are diagnosed each year in children in Great Britain [2]
  • Worldwide, around 352,000 people were estimated to have been diagnosed with the disease in 2012, with incidence rates varying across the world [2]
  • In the UK in 2012, around 4,800 people died from leukaemia, that’s 13 people every day [2]
  • In the 1970s, less than 5 in 100 of people diagnosed with leukaemia survived their disease beyond ten years, now it’s almost half [2]

Leukaemia and Stem Cells

Leukaemia was one of the first illnesses to be treated with stem cell transplants.[3] 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.[4]

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.[3]

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.[5]

Leukaemia and Stem Cells in the headlines

  1. Eva’s life-saving transplant – case study


  1. http://patient.info/health/leukaemia-a-general-overview
  2. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/leukaemia#heading-Zero
  3. http://www.eurostemcell.org/factsheet/leukaemia-how-can-stem-cells-help
  4. http://www.cancercenter.com/leukemia/stem-cell-transplantation/
  5. https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/results?term=stem+cells+leukaemia&Search=Search
  6. Frontiers in pediatrics7, 443. https://doi.org/10.3389/fped.2019.00443
  7. Lancet (London, England), 399(10322), 338–339. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(22)00057-5
  8. 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.

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