Doctors in Seattle call it a very big deal: a study out this week that shows increased benefits of umbilical cord blood transplants among patients with leukemia.

The study, led by researchers at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance found that high-risk leukemia patients showed both better outcomes and less chance of relapse after undergoing a cord blood transplant, when compared to more traditional method of treatments like stem cell transplants from an adult, unrelated donor.

“Over the years, cord blood has always been considered an alternative donor source, or an alternative when we can’t find a perfectly matched donor in the registry,” said Dr. Filippo Milano, with the SCCA – Fred Hutch Cord Blood Transplant Program. “But we can definitely say at SCCA, UW, and Fred Hutch, we can now achieve great results with cord blood, and it doesn’t have to be considered an alternative.”

The study looked at the results from about 600 patients who received stem cell transplants either from cord blood or from unrelated adult donors between 2006 and 2014.

Milano said they found that patients with detectable amounts of cancer cells in their blood could benefit from choosing cord blood as the source of stem cells for their transplant over a traditional transplant.

And because stem cells in the umbilical cord are less developed than adult stem cells, they don’t have to be “matched” like they do in traditional stem cell transplants from an adult donor. In other words: everyone has a cord blood donor.

“I think it crosses the mind of every patient, the fact that maybe I’m not able to find a donor and then I’m done,” said Milano. “But this shows there is hope. There is hope for patients that even if you don’t have a donor match, your outcome can still be pretty good.”

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