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Bone Marrow Transplant: All You Need To Know About It

Regenerative Medicine approach for blood-related diseases. Read on to know the advantages of bone marrow transplant over conventional cancer treatments.

Written by Editorial Team |Updated : September 10, 2022 11:56 AM IST

Diseases are scary and cancer is right at the top! To add on to that, medical words and treatments can be daunting! The first step in any situation is to understand and then accept this really helps in healing better. Today, let's about bone marrow transplant, one of the early forms of regenerative treatment.

What is Bone Marrow Transplant?

While the word 'stem cells' is frowned upon a lot in today's times, we must understand that bone marrow transplantation (BMT), which is essentially stem cell transplantation, has been around for decades! BMT has been the mainstream for treating patients with blood cancer and certain other conditions affecting the blood and immune system.

Our bone marrow, the central portion of bones, is a factory where blood cells are formed. There are stem cells in the bone marrow, which are essentially the most basic cells of our body from which other specialised cells develop. When a person has cancer, the specialised cells divide uncontrollably leading to various issues. The problem is that in conditions like leukemia, aplasic anemia, etc., the stem cells are also not entirely functional. In many cases, patients who undergo chemo and radiotherapy also have improper functioning stem cells. Since the factory (bone marrow) itself is affected by such treatments and disease, it becomes important to transplant healthy stem cells to cure the patient. Thus, BMT involves transferring healthy stem cells from a matched individual (a family member or other compatible individual) to help form normal specialised cells.

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How bone marrow transplantation is done

The process of obtaining the cells involves inserting a needle into the bone marrow of the donor (commonly from the hip bone) and collecting the stem cells, which are then injected into the recipient. Before injecting the stem cells into the recipient, chemotherapy or radiation therapy is done to 'clear' the existing unhealthy bone marrow of the patient, in order to have a healthy environment for the new stem cells. The process is largely like a blood transfusion, but patients receive supportive care and are monitored periodically to prevent any rejection of the cells or side effects. In recent times, the required stem cells are being taken from umbilical cord, thus the treatment has become even less invasive, which is a major advantage in preventing side effects like pain, surgical site infection, etc. in both the donor and recipient. Moreover, in some cases, where one type of stem cells (for example, tissue-forming stem cells) are healthy (only blood-forming stem cells are affected), the required cells can be obtained from the patient itself.

Side effects ofbone marrow donation

The bone marrow donation process is a day-care procedure; however, donors may be hospitalized overnight to monitor their general condition. There are several doubts that donors tend to have, such as losing their own stem cells after donation. It is therefore important that the doctor explain the procedure to the donor clearly. Typically, the average time reported for full recovery after marrow donation is 20 days. Self-renewal is a characteristic of stem cells; therefore, there are no lasting side effects in donors.

Bone marrow transplant Vs conventional cancer treatments

The advantage of BMT is that, as the cancerous cells are eliminated, patients tend to be free of symptoms for longer periods than conventional medicine-based/radiation treatments. The transplanted stem cells also re-balance the internal environment of the body, thus the overall quality of life of the patient is also improved. BMT has been reported to prolong the overall survival and reduce the recurrence rates of blood cancers.

No process is 100 per cent effective. However, utilizing the naturally occurring cells from our bodies is the closest to perfection we can get in today's times. Moreover, there is continuous ongoing research on regenerative medicine and immunotherapy, either as stand-alone or combination therapies. The ultimate goal is to find therapies that are minimally invasive using biological molecules, thereby ensuring safe and effective treatment.

The article is written by Dr. Pradeep Mahajan, Regenerative Medicine Researcher, StemRx Bioscience Solutions Pvt. Ltd, Navi Mumbai.

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