A stem cell or bone marrow transplant replaces damaged blood cells with healthy ones. It can be used to treat conditions affecting the blood cells, such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

Stem cells arespecial cells produced bybone marrow (aspongytissue found in the centre of some bones) that can turn into different types of blood cells.

The three maintypes of blood cellthey can become are:

  • red blood cells which carry oxygen around the body
  • white blood cells which help fight infection
  • platelets which help stop bleeding

A stem cell transplant involves destroying any unhealthy blood cells and replacing them with stem cells removed from the blood or bone marrow.

Why are stem cell transplants carried out?

Stem cell transplants are used to treat conditions in which the bone marrow is damaged and is no longer able to produce healthy blood cells.

Transplants can also be carried out to replace blood cells that are damaged or destroyed as a result of intensive cancer treatment.

Conditions that stem cell transplants can be used to treat include:

  • severe aplastic anaemia (bone marrow failure)
  • leukaemia a type of cancer affecting white blood cells
  • lymphoma another type of cancer affecting white blood cells
  • Plasma cell myeloma cancer affecting cells called plasma cells
  • certain blood, immune system and metabolic disorders examples include sickle cell anaemia , thalassaemia , severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) and Hurler syndrome

A stem cell transplant will usually only be carried out if other treatments haven't helped, the potential benefits of a transplant outweigh the risks and you're in relatively good health, despite your underlying condition.

What does astem cell transplant involve?

A stem cell transplant can involve taking healthy stem cells from the blood or bone marrow of one person ideally a close family member with the same or similar tissue type (see below) and transferring them to another person. This is called an allogeneic transplant.

It's also possible to remove stem cells from your own body and transplant them later, after any damaged or diseased cells have been removed. This is called an autologous transplant.

Astem celltransplant has five main stages. These are:

  1. Tests and examinations to assess your general level of health.
  2. Harvestingthe process of obtaining the stem cells to be used in the transplant, either from you or a donor.
  3. Conditioningtreatment with chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy to prepare your body for the transplant.
  4. Transplanting the stem cells
  5. Recovery

Having a stem cell transplant can be an intensive and challenging experience. You'll usually need to stay in hospital fora month or more until the transplant starts to take effect and itcan takea year or two to fully recover.

It's important that you're aware of both the risks and possible benefits before treatment begins.

Possible problems that can occur during or after the transplant process include:

  • graft versus host disease (GvHD)this occurs in allogeneic transplants when the transplanted cells start to attack the other cells in your body
  • reduced number of blood cells this canlead to anaemia , excessive bleeding or bruising, and an increased risk of infections
  • chemotherapy side effects including sickness, tiredness, hair loss and infertility

If there are no matches in your close family,a search of the British Bone Marrow Registry will be carried out.

Most peoplewill eventually find a donor in the registry,although a small number of people may find it very hard or impossibleto find a suitable match.



Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 30 Nov 2016