Background: Hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation is the treatment of choice for severe primary T-cell immunodeficiencies. When an HLA-identical sibling donor is not available, an alternative donor stem-cell source is needed. In primary T-cell immunodeficiencies, T-cell-depleted HLA-haploidentical bone marrow transplantation has been particularly successful in reconstituting the T-cell immune system in many of the severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome types. However, there are some problems associated with this preparation as a stem donor source, such as increased resistance to engraftment, a long period of time for T-cell engraftment to occur, and failure to engraft B cells and B-cell functions. These problems can be especially troublesome if the patient is infected before the transplantation.
Objective: Umbilical cord blood was evaluated as a stem-cell source for immune reconstitution in children with severe primary T-cell immunodeficiency disorders, such as severe combined immunodeficiency syndrome, reticular dysgenesis, thymic dysplasia, and combined immunodeficiency disease, when a matched sibling donor was unavailable.
Methods: From January 1996 through July 1997, 6 children received unrelated cord blood stem-cell transplantation after a preparative regimen for the treatment of combined immunodeficiency diseases. The patients ranged in age from 2 weeks to 6 years. The cord blood units were 3 of 6 HLA antigen matches in 2 children, 4 of 6 HLA antigen matches in 3 children, and 5 of 6 HLA antigen matches in 1 child, with molecular HLA-DR mismatch in 3 of the children.
Results: The average time for neutrophil engraftment (absolute neutrophil count, >500/mm3) was 12 days (range, 10 to 15 days), and the average time for platelet engraftment (platelet count, >20,000/mm3) was 36 days (range, 24 to 50 days). In a patient with reticular dysgenesis, the first transplant failed to engraft but fully engrafted after a second unrelated donor cord blood transplantation. Five of 6 patients exhibited grade I graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), although 1 child experienced grade IV skin and gut GvHD. Immunologic reconstitution demonstrated that cord blood stem-cell transplantation resulted in consistent and stable T-cell, B-cell, and natural killer-cell development. The kinetics of recovery of phenotypic expression and function of T cells occurred between 60 to 100 days and that of natural killer cells at approximately 180 days. B cells engrafted early, and a study of functional B-cell antibody responses revealed that 2 of 2 patients in whom intravenous immune globulin was discontinued have low detectable antibody responses to tetanus and diphtheria toxoid immunizations more than 1 year after the transplantation.
Conclusions: Unrelated umbilical donor cord blood is an excellent source of stem cells for transplantation of children with immune deficiency disorders. Benefits include rapid and reliable recovery of immune function, low risk of GvHD, and low viral transmission rate.