A stem cell transplant is often seen as a last resort for the patient.
The most common disease for which a stem cell transplant is used is leukemia. In leukemia, the production of blood cells from stem cells is different. In the body of a leukemia patient, the non-functioning white blood cells renew uncontrollably due to a DNA defect. As a result, there is less room for normal blood cells. Life-threatening situations may arise due to:
In addition to leukemia, a stem cell transplant can also be used for other diseases. A few examples:
With a serious blood disease, such as leukemia, the production of healthy blood cells is disturbed. Healthy blood cells are needed for the transport of oxygen, combating infections and to prevent bleeding. The disrupted production of blood cells puts a patient in a life-threatening situation. With a stem cell transplant, a patient receives well-functioning stem cells that start producing new and healthy blood cells.
Before a patient can undergo a stem cell transplant it is necessary to "switch off" his own immune system. This is done by treating the patient with a dose of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that is so high that the bone marrow is irreparably damaged. Without this treatment the immune system of a patient will attack and destroy the donor cells causing the transplant to fail.
The new stem cells from a donor will be passed as a fluid through an intravenous drip. From here the stem cells will find their way to the bone marrow. Once there, they attach themselves and start to produce new blood cells that will form the patients new immune system. This is called engraftment. Engraftment normally takes around two to three weeks.
In addition to the production of new stem cells and blood cells, the donor cells can also recognize abnormal cells. If donor cells and remove any remaining abnormal cells. This gives the patient a chance to heal completely..