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Dr. Guy Sauvageau is the principal investigator of stem cell genetics at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer at the Universite de Montreal.The Canadian Press

Canadian researchers have found a way to boost the number of stem cells from umbilical cord blood so more patients with leukemia and other blood-related cancers can receive potentially life-saving transplants.

The key to the breakthrough technique is a molecule developed at the University of Montreal, which allows scientists to significantly expand the number of stem cells in a single unit of cord blood.

Principal researcher Dr. Guy Sauvageau says use of the molecule called UM171 means doctors could potentially have 10 times more cord blood units available for transplant.

He says that would give non-Caucasian patients, especially, a far better chance of finding stem cells from a suitably matched donor.

And having a greater pool of donor stem cells would also mean fewer complications associated with the transplant and faster recovery.

Sauvageau says researchers will soon begin a study in which patients will receive transplants using stem cells produced using the UM171 molecule to test their safety and effectiveness in humans.

The research involved scientists from across Canada and is published in the journal Science.