A bone marrow transplant may be defined as a process in which unhealthy and damaged bone marrow stem cells are replaced with healthy and functioning cells, through the process of surgery. Generally, bone marrow transplants are performed on patients that are suffering from diseases like leukemia, aplastic anaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thalassaemia, etc.
Types of Transplants
Essentially there are three types of bone marrow transplants:
Auto Logous Transplant, in which the stem cells are taken from the patient’s blood itself.
Syngeneic Transplants, which takes the stem cells from the identical twin, if the patients has one. Allogeneic Transplant which uses the stem cells provided by the brother or sister of the patient. It may also be a close relative or a donor with no family connection if his stem cells genetic makeup matches the patient’s.
Role of Chemotherapy and Radiation in Transplant
Chemotherapy and radiation are usually used to kill cancer cells in the body. These two forms of therapy rapidly kill cells, but they have fatal side effects. This is because both the processes also affect the healthy cells of the body. Very often the stem cells of the bone marrow are severely affected due to which the body’s immune system weakens and it is unable to fight infections and prevent cuts from bleeding. A procedure which goes by the name of BMT and PBSCT is used to replace healthy cells that are destroyed because of the treatment.
Obtaining the Bone Marrow
Stem cells that are used in the transplant necessarily have to be obtained from the center of the bone, which is called the marrow. The procedure of obtaining the cells from the donor is called Harvesting. In this process the donor is first given anaesthesia, and then the cells are extracted through needles from the region of his pelvic bone. It is ensured that the cells are clean, after which they are preserved until the transplant process.
Progression in the field of science has led to the discovery that the umbilical cord can help in curing many such diseases. Expecting parents can consult blood banks, and preserve the blood from the umbilical cord at the time of the birth of their child, for use in the future if need arises.
Risk to the Donors
The donor is generally under no risk because only a small amount of the bone marrow is removed from his body. The usual symptoms that he may have are stiffness, slight pain and weakness for a few days.
Before the surgery the patient is given anaesthesia and anti- cancer medicine. An intravenous method is adopted to transfer the healthy stem cells into the patient’s body. This process takes around 3 – 4 hours. The stem cells on entering the body reach the bone marrow and start producing healthy cells, this is termed as engraftment.
Bone marrow transplantation is needed when a person suffers from life threatening diseases like leukemia, aplastic anaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and others. Although the process is very effective in doing away with the distress of the patient, it is very expensive. Proper care and looking after the patient is necessary. A bone marrow transplant today can be easily done if the patient’s umbilical cord blood is preserved by his parents in blood banks at the time of his birth.
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