Page last updated at 11:56 GMT, Monday, 24 August 2009 12:56 UK

Cancer hope over stem cell drug

Lymphoma cells
Stem cells are used to treat blood cancer, like Hodgkins Lymphoma

Stem cell treatment in cancer patients has been greatly improved by the use of a new drug, clinicians have said.

Plerixafor has allowed doctors to collect stem cells from patients where there had been previous difficulties.

The drug, which has only recently been licensed, is being used at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre.

Stem cells therapies are used to treat people with cancer of the blood. The cells are collected and reintroduced to a patient after chemotherapy.

Doctors often encounter problems collecting enough stem cells from about one in 10 cancer patients to undergo treatment.

Plerixafor has, so far, had a 100% success rate in allowing doctors at the cancer centre to collect enough cells from patients who fall into this category.

Blood specialist, Dr Kenneth Douglas, explained how the drug worked.

One could say that pretty much saved my life
Billy McCondachie
Cancer patient

"Basically it blocks a chemical scent that stem cells sniff for that tells them they're in the bone marrow," he said.

"If you block that chemical scent they get confused and agitated and they think they are not in the bone marrow any more and they start wandering into the blood stream looking for the bone marrow."

When more stem cells "start wandering into the blood" doctors are able to collect them for future treatment.

One patient who has benefited from this approach is retired professional golfer, Billy McCondachie.

He said his age was a barrier to potential stem cell treatment.

"We were only able to get about half of my stem cells out until Dr Douglas came along with this new drug," he said.

"One could say that pretty much saved my life."

The centre in Glasgow has now treated 13 people with the drug and every one has been able to proceed with stem cell treatment.

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