The first hematopoietic transplant in which umbilical cord blood (UCB) was used as the source of hematopoietic cells was performed in October 1988. Since then, significant achievements have been reported in terms of our understanding of the biology of UCB-derived hematopoietic stem (HSCs) and progenitor (HPCs) cells. Over 40,000 UCB transplants (UCBTs) have been performed, in both children and adults, for the treatment of many different diseases, including hematologic, metabolic, immunologic, neoplastic, and neurologic disorders. In addition, cord blood banking has been developed to the point that around 800,000 units are being stored in public banks and more than 4 million units in private banks worldwide. During these 30 years, research in the UCB field has transformed the hematopoietic transplantation arena. Today, scientific and clinical teams are still working on different ways to improve and expand the use of UCB cells. A major effort has been focused on enhancing engraftment to potentially reduce risk of infection and cost. To that end, we have to understand in detail the molecular mechanisms controlling stem cell self-renewal that may lead to the development of ex vivo systems for HSCs expansion, characterize the mechanisms regulating the homing of HSCs and HPCs, and determine the relative place of UCBTs, as compared to other sources. These challenges will be met by encouraging innovative research on the basic biology of HSCs and HPCs, developing novel clinical trials, and improving UCB banking both in the public and private arenas.
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