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Stem Cell - Bone Marrow

There is only one type of cell that is used for transplantation in cancer patients, stem cells; but they can be acquired from different areas of the body.  This treatment is  relatively new and very promising for cancer patients.  The methods of acquiring stem cells from donors include:

Bone marrow stem cells - are collected from the spongy tissue at the center of the bone.  The procedure used is considered surgical, therefore the donor is sedated.  Incisions are made to get access to the bone that will be used for harvesting the cells and a large bore needle is inserted to extract the marrow.  The marrow is then processed by filtering out unwanted material and frozen for storage.


Cord blood - this procedure was developed in 1988 in Paris for a disease other than cancer.  The umbilical cord and placenta from a newborn is frozen, after the birthing process.  Because these stem cells are in the blood-forming stage of development, they are considered much richer than adult stem cells.  And obviously, it is much easier to acquire these stem cells since they are a by-product of births that is normally discarded.  Several cord blood banks have sprung up since the early 1990's in the US and in other countries.  Some of these cord banks are non-profit, some are not.  The Red Cross cord blood bank shipped their first units out in May of 2001.


Peripheral blood stem cells - are collected from the developing cells of bone marrow through a process called apheresis.  The donor may be given medications a week or two prior to the procedure to encourage the growth of white blood cells.  During the procedure, blood is drawn from a vein through a central venous catheter.  This product is then filtered through a special machine that sifts out the stem cells and the unused blood products are returned to the donor.  This procedure may need to be repeated over several days and requires several hours each day. The stem cells are frozen for later use during each donation.  

A choice to be a stem cell transplant patient should not be taken lightly.  Many pre-procedure medical tests and other treatments must be done.  Harvesting of your own bone marrow may need to be done prior to the procedure.  A period of chemotherapy and radiation may need to be done to destroy the current bone marrow in your body.  There are some serious potential complications that may develop up to several years after the procedure is completed.  They may include:

Cataracts - may be caused if total body irradiation is required prior to BMT.  

Chronic graft vs. host disease - transplanted T-lymphocytes recognize the host body as foreign, and attack it.

Dental abnormalities - a recent study of 27 young patients showed a high rate of future dental problems.

Endocrine dysfunction - including ovarian insufficiency and thyroid dysfunction. 

Infertility - risk increases if an allogenic transplant is done.

Stomatitis/xerostomia - can be caused if high levels of chemotherapy are used to destroy the existing stem cells.

To connect with the various Bone Marrow Registries:

American Registry - click on the Patient Resources link.

National Donor Registry - Use the state links to view a registry in your area.

The object is to find a transplant facility near you and register with them. Make sure that they are a part of both the National programs and the International programs. That way you will have more unrelated doners available.

To read more about bone marrow and stem cell transplantation:

American Cancer Society - stem cell and cord blood transplantation.

National Marrow Donor Program - bone marrow registry, advocacy, information, and financial assistance links.