Cord Cure

Large gift provides for new center, clinical trial.
June 1, 2010

For more than two decades, Joanne Kurtzberg HS '83, the director of Duke's pediatric blood- and marrow-transplant program, has been studying stem cells in umbilical-cord blood and their possible use in treating diseases like cancer and cerebral palsy. This spring, the university received a $10.2 million gift from North Carolina's Robertson Foundation to create a permanent center devoted to turning this research into therapy.

Umbilical-cord-blood stem cells—normally discarded after birth—have the ability to grow and develop into various types of cells throughout the body. They can be harvested after birth and stored for future transplant in patients. Kurtzberg established the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank in 1996, which has grown into one of the largest public cord-blood banks in the world.

The latest gift will be used to create the Translational Cell Therapy Center, or TCTC. A special lab and storage facility will enable researchers to conduct their first placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial to test whether cord-blood transplantation is effective for treating cerebral palsy in children.

Much of Kurtzberg's current research focuses on children with acquired or genetically linked brain injury, many of whom come from all over the world to receive cord-blood treatments under her direction. Future studies will look into using cord-blood stem cells to treat congenital heart disease or the effects of strokes and brain injuries.