The copper chelator tetraethylenepentamine (TEPA; StemEx) was shown to attenuate the differentiation of ex vivo cultured hematopoietic cells resulting in preferential expansion of early progenitors. A phase I/II trial was performed to test the feasibility and safety of transplantation of CD133+ cord blood (CB) hematopoietic progenitors cultured in media containing stem cell factor, FLT-3 ligand, interleukin-6, thrombopoietin and TEPA. Ten patients with advanced hematological malignancies were transplanted with a CB unit originally frozen in two fractions. The smaller fraction was cultured ex vivo for 21 days and transplanted 24 h after infusion of the larger unmanipulated fraction. All but two units contained <2 x 10(7) total nucleated cells (TNCs) per kilogram pre-expansion. All donor-recipient pairs were mismatched for one or two HLA loci. Nine patients were beyond first remission; median age and weight were 21 years and 68.5 kg. The average TNCs fold expansion was 219 (range, 2-620). Mean increase of CD34+ cell count was 6 (over the CD34+ cell content in the entire unit). Despite the low TNCs per kilogram infused (median=1.8 x 10(7)/kg), nine patients engrafted. Median time to neutrophil and platelet engraftment was 30 (range, 16-46) and 48 (range, 35-105) days. There were no cases of grades 3-4 acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) and 100-day survival was 90%. This strategy is feasible.