Bone Marrow Transplantation

Bone marrow transplant (BMT) is a special therapy for patients with certain cancers or other diseases. It is a medical procedure performed to replace bone marrow with healthy cells that have been damaged or destroyed by disease, infection, or chemotherapy. This procedure involves transplanting blood stem cells, which travel to the bone marrow where they produce new blood cells and promote the growth of new marrow. (Also known as a stem cell transplant or, more specifically, a hematopoietic stem cell transplant)

Bone marrow transplant has been used successfully to treat diseases such as leukemias, lymphomas, immune deficiency disorders, and some solid tumor cancers since 1968.

Bone Marrow

Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue found inside bones. It is where most of the body’s blood cells develop and are stored. The blood cells that make other blood cells are called stem cells. The most primitive of the stem cells is called the pluripotent stem cell. This is different than other blood cells with regard to the following properties:

  • It is able to reproduce another cell identical to itself.
  • It is able to generate one or more subsets of more mature cells.

It is the stem cells that are needed in bone marrow transplants.

The Goal of Bone Marrow Transplant

The goal of a bone marrow transplant is to cure many diseases and types of cancer. When the doses of chemotherapy or radiation needed to cure a cancer are so high that a person’s bone marrow stem cells will be permanently damaged or destroyed by the treatment, a bone marrow transplant may be needed. Bone marrow transplants may also be needed if the bone marrow has been destroyed by a disease.

A bone marrow transplant can be used to:

  • Replace diseased, non-functioning bone marrow with healthy functioning bone marrow (for conditions such as leukemia)
  • Regenerate a new immune system that will fight existing or residual leukemia or other cancers not killed by the chemotherapy or radiation used in the transplant.
  • Replace the bone marrow and restore its normal function after high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation are given to treat a malignancy. This process is often called
  • Replace bone marrow with genetically healthy functioning bone marrow to prevent more damage from a genetic disease process

Types of Bone Marrow Transplants

There are different types of bone marrow transplants depending on who the donor is. The different types of BMT include the following:

  • Autologous bone marrow transplant. The donor is the patient himself or herself.
  • Allogeneic bone marrow transplant. The donor shares the same genetic type as the patient.
  • Umbilical cord blood transplant. Stem cells are taken from an umbilical cord immediately after the delivery of an infant.

The risks and benefits must be weighed in a thorough discussion with your healthcare provider and specialists in bone marrow transplants before the procedure.

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