Sep 2013

Stem cells save lives of children with cancer

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As September draws to a close, it’s important to remember that the back-to-school month has been designated Childhood Cancer Awareness since 1987.

According to Childhood Cancer Canada, 15,000 Canadian kids are diagnosed with cancer each year. This disease is responsible for more deaths in children than asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and AIDS combined.

Cancer develops as a result of disruptions in cell division and growth. Instead of dying off like normal cells, cancer cells live on and produce more cancer cells. Though the exact cause of this cellular mutation is unclear, contributing factors to this disease may be hereditary and/or environmental.

Because radiation treatment would damage young cancer patients’ still-developing brains, transplanting hematopoietic – or blood-forming – stem cells following chemotherapy is now a standard practice and can increase survival rates for those with brain, bone, and immune cell tumours.

The process involves harvesting hematopoietic stem cells from bone marrow and umbilical cord blood to transplant and resupply blood cells. The procedure has led to successful cures for potentially lethal forms of leukemia.

Research teams are focused on developing new methods for applying hematopoietic stem cells to treat different types of cancers – more specifically for solid tumour cancers. For more information on the research that’s underway, click here.

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