Oct04-Cord Blood FAQ, How Long Have Doctors Used Cord Blood Stem Cells

The cord blood harvested from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord a few minutes after birth are rich in valuable stem cells that are often hailed as being the “future of medicine” by researchers and health experts. The capacity of cord blood stem cells to regenerate tissue is very powerful and these cells have the potential to treat more than 85 medical conditions.

However, many people wonder how safe is it to use stem cells from the cord blood in an actual stem cell transplant. These powerful stem cells actually have a long history of safety and efficacy as this article will highlight.

When did researchers discover stem cells?

Researchers realised that certain cells within the human body had the ability to produce other cells in the mid-1800s. Although scientists didn’t realise it at the time, they had observed stem cells in action.

The term “stem cells” was first used in 1908 when a Russian histologist named Alexander Maksimov described the microscopic cells that were responsible for creating red blood cells. These stem cells were later classified as Haematopoietic Stem Cells (HSCs).

And in 1963, scientists found stem cells in the bone marrow of mice and realised that is where most HSCs reside.

When was the first successful stem cell transplant?

The world’s first stem cell transplant took place in 1968. Haematopoietic stem cells are now used many different types of cancer, metabolic disorders, and blood disorders.

When did scientists discover umbilical cord blood stem cells?

In 1974, scientists discovered stem cells and progenitor cells in human umbilical cord blood. However, it wasn’t until 1982 that doctors realised umbilical cord blood could be used as a source of transplantable hematopoietic stem (HSC) and progenitor (HPC) cells.  A groundbreaking paper called ‘Human umbilical cord blood as a potential source of transplantable hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells’ was published in 1989. This paper proved that umbilical cord blood was a viable source of stem cells for transplantation.


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How Stem Cells from the Cord Blood are Used to Treat Blood Cancers
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When was the first transplant using cord blood stem cells?

In 1988, a young boy with Fanconi Anaemia was successfully treated with a transplant of umbilical cord blood from his sister. The transplant recipient is alive and well today — completely free of the disease. Since then, many umbilical cord blood banks have been established to preserve this important medical resource and thousands of successful transplants have been performed.


Researchers continue to discover new uses for umbilical cord blood and suspect it may be used to treat many illnesses and injuries including heart disease, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, spinal cord injuries, and Parkinson’s disease.


  • Ballen, K., Gluckman, E., & Broxmeyer, H. (2013). Umbilical cord blood transplantation: the first 25 years and beyond. Blood, 122(4), 491-498. doi:10.1182/blood-2013-02-453175
  • Ccbb.duke.edu,. (2015). History of Cord Blood | Carolinas Cord Blood Bank (CCBB). Retrieved 17 July 2015, from ccbb.duke.edu/about-cord-blood/history-cord-blood
  • Gluckman, E., & Rocha, V. (2005). History of the clinical use of umbilical cord blood hematopoietic cells. Cytotherapy, 7(3), 219-227. doi:10.1080/14653240510027136