Finding a cure

The basics of transplantation

During a blood stem cell transplant, the patient receives healthy blood stem cells from a donor. The donor’s blood stem cells travel through the bloodstream to the patient’s bone marrow where they begin to produce new blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets).

Blood stem cell transplantation is a complex procedure that requires a team of healthcare professionals, including a transplant physician, transplant nurse, and other specialists. The patient needs to be carefully monitored before, during, and after the procedure for any complications. However, for many patients with blood cancers and other diseases, a blood stem cell transplant can be a life-saving treatment option.

The patient journey

Risks of transplantation

A bone marrow, peripheral blood stem cell or umbilical cord blood transplantation is a medical procedure, and no procedure is risk-free. Patients should always consult their transplant physician about the associated risks. Outcomes have improved considerably thanks to collaboration between scientists, clinicians and nurses within scientific communities that collect data on procedures and analyse outcomes. Disease-free survival rates depend on various aspects, including disease stage and degree of HLA matching between donor and patient.

Infection: the risk of infection is increased after transplantation because the patient’s immune system is weak. Infections can be serious and may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or yeast. The risk of infections decreases as the immune system recovers.

Graft vs. Host Disease: GvHD is a common complication for people who receive blood stem cells from a donor. It can vary from mild to life-threatening. In GvHD, the new blood stem cells attack the recipient’s body. Acute GvHD occurs within 90 to 100 days after transplantation; chronic GvHD occurs more than 90 to 100 days after.

Graft failure: this means that the new blood stem cells do not function properly. It can happen if the patient’s immune system rejects the new blood stem cells, if the number or quality of the transplanted cells was insufficient, or if the transplanted cells are damaged by infection or toxic substances after transplantation.