The Passing of Hal Broxmeyer

If anyone can be said to be the father of cord blood banking and therapies, it has to be Hal Broxmeyer. He discovered that umbilical cord blood contains hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells, and that they can be cryopreserved, stored and "defrosted" -- as Hal like to say -- and used as a donor for transplantation. This led to the development of the fields of cord blood banking and transplantation.

Hal BroxmeyerBased on his investigations and collaborations with clinical investigators, the use of cord blood as a donor source for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation has given life-saving therapy to tens of thousands of patients with refractory malignancies, congenital immunodeficiency and bone marrow failure syndromes, selected inherited metabolic diseases and hemoglobinopathies. Anticipated in the near future are even broader uses of cord blood and birthing tissues with the development of immune and regenerative cell-based therapies.

In the early-to-mid 1980s, Hal and his team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and subsequently at Indiana University were the first to suggest that umbilical cord blood could serve as a source of hematopoietic stem cells for transplant. He coordinated a team of scientists and clinicians to collect and bank cord blood from siblings of patients with life-threatening blood disorders treatable with transplantation. This led, in October 1988, in collaboration with Eliane Gluckman, to the successful transplantation of a five-year-old boy with Fanconi anemia, a rare and serious inherited blood disorder that leads to bone marrow failure. The donor was his healthy, HLA-matched baby sister. The recipient remains alive and healthy today.

Cord blood transplants have since been performed more than 40,000 times to treat diseases such as leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell disease and severe combined immunodeficiency syndromes. An entire industry of cord blood banks has evolved with more than 800,000 units stored in public banks around the world and upwards to 6 million units in family banks.

Hal Broxmeyer AwardFor many of us, the last time we saw Hal in person was at the 2019 Cord Blood Connect international congress when he was the recipient of the CBA Lifetime Achievement Award.

On that occasion he was presented with a “Thank You Hal” book with photos and notes from a few of the thousands of patients who have benefited from his work. Each two-page spread in the coffee table-size book had a message from a patient, or patient’s family, most of them handwritten, and photos of the patient at the time of the transplant and at the time of the letter. Many of the transplant recipients were infants or children and are adults today.

Many pages would be required to list all of Hal’s lifetime of accomplishments. His impact on cord blood banking and therapy is immeasurable.

Hal E. Broxmeyer Obituary

“Brief Historical Overview and New Means to Increase Cord Blood Hematopoietic Stem/Progenitor Cell Homing and Engraftment for Enhanced HCT Efficacy– Keynote lecture at 2019 Cord Blood Connect international congress

“Thank You Hal”– commemorate book of letters and photos from grateful cord blood recipient patients and families