If you are learning about stem cells and their use in medical treatment for the first time, not to worry - transplant physicians have been infusing blood stem cells by bone marrow transplant for more than 40 years. Below you’ll find a general overview to help walk you through this potentially life-saving process.
What is it?
Stem cell transplants are used to treat patients whose own stem cells are dysfunctional, diseased or have been damaged by the treatment of a disease like cancer. The goal of a stem cell transplant for these conditions is to replace the patient’s dysfunctional or destroyed cells with healthy stem cells.
Stem cell transplants can be performed using a patient’s own stem cells (autologous stem cell transplant) or using stem cells from related or unrelated donors (allogeneic stem cell transplant). The stem cells can be obtained from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow or in special circumstances from an individual’s peripheral (circulating) blood supply. In all cases the stem cells must be an acceptable tissue match for the patient, although studies have shown that autologous and related donor stem cells have a higher rate of successful engraftment.
- First, the stem cell-rich cord blood is collected from your baby’s umbilical cord and stored until the transplant physician is ready for it.
- The patient receives their irradiation and/or chemotherapy treatment. In the case of cellular therapy or regenerative medicine, no irradiation is required.
- The cord blood stem cells are then infused into the patient's bloodstream. The stem cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells, replacing the normal cells lost during treatment.
A Transplant Physician must consider many factors to determine whether a patient is a candidate for a stem cell transplant. These include the type of disease, the stage of disease, how aggressive it is, the prognosis and the responsiveness of the disease prior to treatment, as well as a patient's age and general physical condition.
Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) occurs when immune cells within the transplanted stem cells recognize the recipient as "foreign" and begin to attack the beneficial cells. GVHD can be mild to severe, and can occur soon after a transplant or months to years later. GVHD is a potential risk when stem cells used in a transplant come from an allogeneic donor. The risk of GVHD is considerably lowered when the stem cell transplant is performed with stem cells from your own umbilical cord blood.