Did you know that the human placenta was known as a source of haemopoietic stem cells since the 1960s but these findings were not pursued for many years later?
Of course, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519, an Italian polymath) and Vesalius (1514-1564, a Belgian anatomist and physician) both described the anatomy of the placenta and were aware of its nutritious value to the foetus, but the name placenta was not widely used until the middle of the 18th century.
The practical problems of obtaining placental blood drove Edward A Boyse, Judith Bard and Hal Broxmeyer to discuss the possibility of using umbilical cord blood for hemopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT) in 1982.
The Biocyte corporation demonstrated that stem cells from umbilical cord blood could be used for human HSCT instead of bone marrow cells and in 1989 a joint effort by Hal Broxmeyer and Ellian Gluckman resulted in the successful HSCT of a young boy with Fanconi Anaemia using umbilical-cord blood from an HLA-identical sibling.
Of course, there are major challenges, including the volume of umbilical cord blood and it’s hemopoietic stem cell content but in 2022 the CIBMTR reported that 5,073 related and 4,276 unrelated umbilical cord HSCT were performed. In some cases, because of a size disparity between the donor and recipient two umbilical cord donations are required to obtain a satisfactory graft.
Dzierzake E, Robin C. Placenta as a source of hempoietic stem cells Trends Mol Med. 2010. doi: 10. 1016/j.molmed. 2010.05.005. E pub 2010 June 30.
McCann S R. A History of Haematology. Oxford Medical Histories. 2016. ISBN: 978-0-19-871760-7
EBMT Handbook. ISBN: 978-3-030-02278-5. 7th edition.