Saturday, August 23, 2008

Stem Cell Transplant 101

What is a Stem Cell?
An Adult Stem Cell has two specific skills: it can divide and create cells like itself (other stem cells), and cells unlike itself (red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets). Adult stem cells live in the bone marrow and the bloodstream.

What is a Stem Cell Transplant (SCT)?
Here is a brief outline; more info is available at the links below. SCT is similar to a Bone Marrow Transplant. The biggest difference is that doctors have learned to harvest stem cells from the bloodstream, rather than the bone marrow. Mine will be autologous (my own stem cells) rather than allogenic (siblings' donated stem cells), which will eliminate the whole issue of rejection and graft vs. host disease.

First, I will have a port (similar to an I.V.) surgically implanted, then get injections to coax the stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the bloodstream. The stem cells will be harvested from the blood through apheresis; similar to red cell plasma donation, if you've ever done that at a blood bank. The harvesting is done on an outpatient basis; it takes 1-4 days. (Enough stem cells are harvested for 2-3 transplants, just in case you ever need another one.) The little buggers are frozen, and then you get some time off, anywhere from a few days to a few months.

The transplant itself is an inpatient procedure and begins with high-dose chemotherapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. It also destroys the blood-producing cells in the bone marrow. And here's where I send you off to read more about that, if you're interested. You can Google, (or Wiki, or Dogpile, etc.) "Stem Cell Transplant" and find lots more information and resources.

Stem Cell Transplant (Mayo Clinic)
What Are Stem Cells? and SCT overview (MMRF)

Ironically, I have been on a bone marrow donor registry for years. Good thing no one ever called!

P.S. Please remember when the Save The Fetus folks start shrieking, that thousands of people -- maybe hundreds of thousands -- are alive today because of Stem Cell Transplants, and the Stem Cells DID NOT COME FROM A FETUS. Stem Cell research is still in its infancy (so to speak) and could save thousands more lives, if we don't let ourselves get sidetracked on this silly red herring. Embryonic stem cells are not the same thing as adult stem cells.

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