Although most people assume that cord blood stem cell therapy is a cutting-edge medical technology, it has a history that stretches back decades. In fact, the very first umbilical cord blood transplant occurred on the 6th of October 1988 over 30 years ago.

The recipient of the world’s first umbilical cord blood transplant was a young 5-year-old boy named Matthew Farrow. Matthew received the cord blood stem cell transplant to treat Fanconi Anaemia, a rare and life-threatening blood disorder.

This cord blood awareness month, we’d like to share with you Matthew’s journey to becoming the world’s first successful recipient of umbilical cord blood transplant.

Matthew’s Journey

In 1987, at the young age of 4, an American boy named Matthew Farrow was diagnosed with Fanconi Anaemia. It is a rare genetic disease that causes congenital defects, abnormalities of the skin, short stature, kidney problems and a shortened lifespan.

Fanconi anaemia sufferers often develop a life-threatening cancer like leukaemia or throat cancer at some stage during their life. Most people with the disease die before they reach 29 years of age. Matthew’s parents were devastated to learn of the diagnosis.

Around this time, Matthew’s mother fell pregnant again. To check if this child, a baby girl, would also be affected by the disease, doctors had her amniotic fluid analysed. Much to her parent’s relief, the doctors discovered that the foetus did not have the signs of Fanconi anaemia.

Matthew’s doctors realised that this presented a unique opportunity. If Matthew’s sister was a HLA-match, they would be able to perform a stem cell transplant in order to cure his condition.

Several specialists were consulted, and they discussed the possibility of using umbilical cord blood for transplant. At this time, a cord blood transplant has never been performed between humans. The outcome was uncertain, and it was considered a high-risk for the transplant recipient.

The specialists decided that the transplant could work and laid out their case to the French National Ethics Committee. Fortunately, the committee gave permission for the transplant to go ahead, as Matthew’s life was at risk.

One of the factors that contributed to the committee’s decision was that umbilical cord blood was being used and not bone marrow. An umbilical cord blood sample could be obtained with no risk to the newborn baby, while obtaining bone marrow stem cells would require an invasive procedure.

It took an international collaboration for the transplant to occur. Some of the specialists involved included Dr. Hal Broxmeyer of the Sloan-Kettering Institute, who banked the umbilical cord blood and Dr. Arleen Auerbach of Rockefeller University, who described a method for diagnosing prenatal Fanconi anaemia from amniotic fluid.

The umbilical cord blood sample was collected after Matthew’s sister was born, then cryogenically frozen and stored at a facility in Indianapolis. It was then flown to Paris where the procedure was performed by Dr. Eliane Gluckman of the Hôpital Saint-Louis.

Matthew’s cord blood stem cell transplant was a success and he was cured of Fanconi anaemia.

Since 1988, cord blood has been used in over 40,000 transplants. It is now used to treat more than 85 different conditions including many forms of cancer, immune system disorders, blood disorders, and metabolic disorders.

Matthew’s Life Today

Today, Matthew is a family man who works for a public/private stem cell bank. He performs public outreach to help raise the awareness and understanding of umbilical cord blood stem cells.

Matthew often talks to parents of children with Fanconi anaemia, to inform them about their treatment options. He enjoys showing them that a person with Fanconi anaemia can recover and enjoy a normal life.

Matthew believes that the public needs to be better informed about the medicinal potential of umbilical cord blood stem cells. Cord blood stem cell transplants have already saved the lives of thousands of people and researchers continue to discover new uses for these powerful cells every year.

He believes that the media negatively represents some stem cell research as they focus on embryonic stem cells. And that there isn’t enough focus on umbilical cord blood stem cells, which are non-controversial cells that are taken from tissue normally discarded as medical waste.

He hopes that his story of being the world’s first successful umbilical cord blood transplant recipient will encourage more parents to consider preserving their child’s umbilical cord blood – an important decision that could protect their child’s health in the future.

Why Saving the Umbilical Cord Blood is Important?

Saving your baby’s umbilical cord blood with a private cord blood bank means they have a personal supply of valuable stem cells on standby. The cord blood stem cells are 100% match to your child so there is no risk that their body would reject the stem cells when transplanted. Also, since the cord blood is stored exclusive for your family use, there is no need to wait for a suitable donor if a stem cell transplant is needed. Cord blood banking does not only benefit the child (the owner of cord blood sample), it can benefit other family members as well. In fact, there is 25% of being a perfect match to the siblings and there is also a possibility of being a match to parents.

Over 5 million families worldwide have stored their baby’s umbilical cord blood privately to help protect their baby and family’s health. The number of available cord blood stem cell treatments is growing daily to treat cancers like leukaemia or disorders like sickle cell anaemia. Research are underway to treat conditions including autism, cerebral palsy, alzheimer’s disease, heart attack, hearing loss, and diabetes, to name a few. There is a significant chance that your child will need some or all of their stored umbilical cord blood stem cells in their lifetime.

The Simple Steps to Saving the Umbilical Cord Blood

As expecting parents, you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of saving the umbilical cord blood at the birth of your baby. Your doctor or midwife will perform the collection once the umbilical cord is cut away and the collected umbilical cord blood sample will be shipped to the laboratory for testing and processing. At Cells4Life, we use a specialised cord blood collection kit with a built-in cooling device called Nano-Cool to help maintain your cord blood sample’s viability while in transit to our UK lab.

Watch Video: Step by Step Guide to Cord Blood Banking with Cells4Life