Stem cell transplantation is the term used to describe the process of infusing healthy stem cells into the human body. Such a procedure may be necessary if a patient’s bone marrow fails to function properly and is not producing an adequate amount of healthy stem cells. In addition, stem cell transplantation can help with the production of healthy platelets, red blood cells and white blood cells, which can reduce the risk of potentially fatal infections, excessive bleeding or anemia.
Typically referred to as a stem cell transplant, the process of replenishing a patient’s healthy supply of cells is also often referred to as an umbilical cord blood transplant or a bone marrow transplant. Stem cell transplantation may either use cells that are harvested from the patient’s own body, which is known as an autogous stem cell transplant, or from donors through an allogeneic stem cell transplant.
A stem cell transplant can be used in the treatment of individuals whose own cells have been damaged due to disease, or even the treatment of some diseases. Stem cell transplants have been proven to benefit patients suffering from both malignant as well as nonmalignant diseases.
One of the most common uses of stem cell transplantation is to replace bone marrow that has become dysfunctional. For example, the bone marrow of a patient with aplastic anemia does not make a sufficient amount of new blood cells. The medical professionals will first destroy any dysfunctional marrow through radiation or powerful drugs prior to the infusion of healthy stem cells. If the procedure is a success, the new cells will migrate to the bone marrow and resume normal functions.
In a patient suffering from leukemia, stem cell transplantation is used to destroy the unhealthy cells. Then, healthy cells are transplanted so normal cell production is able to resume. In addition, the immune factors that are included in the transplanted cells can help to fight off any cancerous cells that may remain in the patient’s bone marrow.
Following a stem cell transplant, the patient may remain in the hospital until blood counts recover. However, in some cases, the patient is allowed to leave the hospital to recover in the comforts of their own home, yet remain under the close watch of a medical care team. Some patients are able to leave the hospital in as little as three to five weeks, while others must stay much longer. Some facilities require patients to stay close in order to allow proper monitoring following a stem cell transplant.
In the days and weeks following stem cell transplantation, patients must undergo a number of tests and other procedures to monitor the condition that was present prior to the transplant. Supplemental nutrition and numerous medications may also be prescribed to combat any complications.