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Milestones in the history of cord blood banking

Figure 1. First cord blood transplant (1988-2018)

The cord blood banking started in the early 1990s with the establishment of cord blood banks pioneered in U.S and then over the world. However, the history of cord blood transplantation began much earlier.

In 1974, the first report by Danish scientist Søren Knudtzon on the presence of colony forming cells in cord blood showed that cord blood contained a large numbers of hematopoietic stem cell (HSC), similar to those found in bone marrow (1).

Perhaps Knudtzon was unaware of Ende’s paper on the ‘change’ of blood group after cord blood transfusion and the concept ‘transient marrow engraftment’ at that time (2). In terms of terminology, “stem cell” can be first used to refer to HSC in bone marrow by A. Maximov in 1908 (3).

In 1983, Kenichi Koike demonstrated that cryopreserved cord blood cells could survive and maintain their proliferative activity (4). The same idea brought the patent of HSC preservation for Hal E. Broxmeyer and E. Boyse; and the ‘activating’ paper of Broxmeyer on the potential use of cord blood (5).

In 1988, the world’s first cord blood transplant was conducted by Eliane Gluckman on a 5-year-old American boy with Fanconi anemia – Matthew Farrow – at Hospital Saint Louis, Paris. With the cooperation of professor Broxmeyer, cord blood from Farrow’s younger sister was collected, cryopreserved, and transplanted 6 months later (A contingency plan was back-up bone marrow from the sister). The world’s first bone marrow transplants reported by Donnal Thomas in 1959 (6). Up to 30 years later, the first cord blood transplant was published in New England Journal of Medicine (7). This was followed by the United States in 1990, Japan and Poland in 1994, Portugal in 1996…extending the role of cord blood in the treatment of the diseases.

Figure 2. The scientists who pioneered in cord blood transplantation

In 1992, the first public cord blood bank was operated at New York Blood Centre by Pablo Rubinstein. This year could also be considered as the birth year of the cord blood banking industry when the first cord blood sample was cryopreserved for family use at the University of Arizona, shaping the birth of a system of cord blood bank over the world.

In 1993, the unrelated cord blood transplantation was first performed by Joanne Kurtzberg at Duke University.

The first expanding cord blood transplantation was performed in 1997 on Stephen R.. Sprague – a 46-year-old patient who was the first adult to be successfully treated with cord blood.

In 2003, Prof. H. Broxmeyer reported results that, after 15 years (8), 24 years (9) hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells retained their biological properties in National Academy of Sciences and Blood. These results demonstrated the feasibility of long-term cord blood cell cryopreservation.

In 2006, John E. Wagner and colleagues succeeded in two-unit cord blood transplantation (10). The breakthrough showed that two partially matched cord blood units can be safely transplanted to adults (1 unit is not enough).

The foundations of the cord blood banking industry are well-established with the birth of more than 350 cord blood banks in the world: 160 public banks in 36 countries stored more than 700,000 units; 210 private banks in 54 countries stored more than 5 million units (11). By the number of units stored, the largest banks now are: Cord blood registry (600,000 units), Cryo-Cell (500,000) and Viacord (350,000) of the U.S; Europe has Cryo-Save (280,000, Netherlands); Asia has China cord blood bank (312,000, China); Latin America has CryoHoldco (130,000, Mexico) (12).


Compiled by Huynh Chi Thien, MekoStem Stem Cell Bank.



1. Knudtzon, S. (1974). In vitro growth of granulocytic colonies from circulating cells in human cord blood. Blood, 43 (3), 357-361.

2. Ende, M., & Ende, N. (1972). Hematopoietic transplantation by means of fetal (cord) blood: a new method. Virginia Med Month, 99, 276.

3. Igor, E. K. (2000). The man behind the unitarian theory of hematopoiesis. Perspect Biol Med, 43(2), 269–76. doi: 10.1353/pbm.2000.0006

4. Koike, K. (1983). Cryopreservation of pluripotent and commited hemopoietic progenitor cells from human bone marrow and cord blood. Acta Paediatr Japan, 25(3), 275-283.

5. Broxmeyer, H.E., Douglas, G.W., Hangoc, G., Cooper, S., Bard, J., English, D., Arny, M., Thomas, L., Boyse, E.A. (1989). Human umbilical cord blood as a potential source of transplantable hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 86(10), 3828-32. doi: 10.1073/pnas.86.10.3828

6. Thomas, E.D., Lochte, H.L., Cannon, J.H., Sahler, O.D., Ferrebee, J.W. (1959). Supralethal whole body irradiation and isologous marrow transplantation in man. J Clin Invest, 38(10 Pt 1-2), 1709-1716. doi: 10.1172/JCI103949

7. Gluckman, E., Broxmeyer, H.E., Auerbach, A.D., Friedman, H., Douglas, G.W., DeVergie, A., Esperou, H., Thierry, D., Socie, G., Lehn, P., Cooper, S., English, D., Kurtzberg, J., Bard, J., Boyse, E.A. (1989). Hematopoietic reconstitution in a patient with Fanconi anemia by means of umbilical-cord blood from an HLA-identical sibling. N Engl J Med, 321(17),1174-8 doi: 10.1056/NEJM198910263211707

8. Broxmeyer, H.E., Srour, E.F., Hangoc, G., Cooper, S., Anderson, S.A., Bodine, D.M. (2003). High-efficiency recovery of functional hematopoietic progenitor and stem cells from human cord blood cryopreserved for 15 years. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 100(2), 645-50.

9. Broxmeyer, H.E., Lee, M.R., Hangoc, G., Cooper, S., Prasain, N., Kim, Y.J. (2011). Hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells, generation of induced pluripotent stem cells, and isolation of endothelial progenitors from 21- to 23.5-year cryopreserved cord blood. Blood, 117(18), 4773–7. doi: 10.1182/blood-2011-01-330514

10. Wagner, J., Eapen, M., Carter, S., Wang, Y., Schultz, K., Wall, D., Bunin, N., Delaney, C., Kurtzberg, J. (2014). One-unit versus two-unit cord-blood transplantation for hematologic cancers. N Engl J Med, 371(18), 1685–1694. doi:  10.1056/NEJMoa1405584

11. https://www.cb-association.org/resources (Cord blood association, 2017)

12. https://bioinformant.com (C. Hildreth, 2018)

13. Rubinstein, P. (2006). Why cord blood?. Human immunogenetics. 67(6):398-404. doi:10.1016/j.humimm.2006.03.015

14. Gluckman, E. (2009). History of cord blood transplantation. Bone Marrow Transplant, 44(10), 621-6. doi: 10.1038/bmt.2009.280

15. Kurtzberg, J. (2017). A history of cord blood banking and transplantation. Stem Cells Transl Med, 6(5), 1309-1311. doi: 10.1002/sctm.17-0075.

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