What is a Bone Marrow Transplant? Types, Procedure and Risks

Bone marrow transplant also known as cord blood transplant is a medical process that is used to replace unhealthy bone marrow of the patient with a healthy bone marrow.

What is Bone Marrow? Marrow is the soft tissue inside the bones that produces blood forming cells (hematopoietic stem cells, or HSCs). These blood forming cells or HSCs later grow to become red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Types of Bone Marrow Transplant

There are three types of Bone Marrow transplant– Autologous Bone marrow transplant, Allogeneic Bone marrow transplant and Umbilical cord blood transplant.

  • Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant
    In autologous transplant, doctors uses patient’s own cells. The patient needs to either go for bone marrow harvesting or stem cell mobilization so that the healthy cells can be gathered for the transplant.
  • Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant
    In allogeneic transplant one needs a donor. The donor can either be a family member or an unrelated donor. The matching donor’s stem cells are used for transplant. The closer the match of the tissue, the better are the chances of a successful transplant.
  • Umbilical Cord Blood Transplant
    Umbilical cord blood transplant is also a type of allogeneic transplant. Frozen stem cells, collected from a new born baby’s umbilical cord are used in this procedure.
    Umbilical cord cells are immature and there is no need to find a perfect match. But as the stem cell count in this procedure is very less, blood count takes much more time recover.
Source: Medium.com

Why does one need a Bone Marrow Transplant?

Bone marrow transplant is a medical procedure that is performed when the patient’s marrow is not healthy. Unhealthy bone marrow cannot function properly and thus transplant is needed. The reason of unhealthy bone marrow could be due to chronic infections, disease, or cancer treatments, know some of the best cancer hospitals for treatment. Some reasons are mentioned below-

  • Aplastic Anaemia is a type of disorder in which the bone marrow fails to make new blood cells and deficiency of all types of blood cells occurs.
  • Certain cancers that affect the bone marrow are leukaemia, lymphoma, myelodysplasia and multiple myeloma
  • Chemotherapy at times destroys the bone marrow so to heal the damaged bone marrow, transplant is needed.
  • Congenital neutropenia, is a condition in which the patient is prone to recurring infections. Patients have the deficiency of neutrophils which is a type of white blood cells that fights infection and plays a role in inflammation.
  • Sickle cell anaemia is a disorder in which red blood cells take the shape of a sickle. Red blood cells die early which leaves the patient with shortage of healthy red blood cells.
  • Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that results in abnormal formation of haemoglobin. Patients are not able to make enough haemoglobin which results in severe anaemia. This in turn leads to less oxygen in several parts of body, thereby, resulting in improper functioning.

What is the procedure of a Bone Marrow Transplant?

It completely depends on the type of bone marrow transplant, the disease that requires the transplant and the patient’s tolerance for certain medications.

For more details about the procedure of Bone Marrow Transplant-

Usually high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation are given to the patient. This therapy is done to effectively treat the malignancy and also to make space in the bone marrow so that the new cells can grow. This therapy is also known as ablative, or myeloablative. Ablative therapy prevents the process of cell production in the bone marrow and thus the bone marrow becomes empty. An empty marrow is needed for the transplant so that it has enough space for the new stem cells to grow and start a new blood cell production system which is healthy.

After the ablative therapy is administered, the bone marrow transplant is done through the central venous catheter into the bloodstream. This procedure of placing marrow into the bone is not surgical, but it is quite similar to that of receiving a blood transfusion. The stem cells placed through this procedure find their way into the bone marrow themselves and begin their work of reproducing and growing new and healthy blood cells.

After the transplant is complete, supportive care is given to the patient. This is important to keep the patient safe from infections, side effects of treatments and other complications. Regular and frequent blood tests are conducted. Close monitoring of vital signs, strict measurement of fluid input and output, daily weigh-ins, and providing a protected and clean environment is done. All this is done to keep the patient safe and in a healthy environment so that she/he can recover easily without any complications.

Risks involved in a Bone Marrow Transplant

For Patients

The most common complication/risk involved with bone marrow transplant is Graft Versus Host Disease (GvHD). GvHD develops when the blood cells start developing from the donor’s stem cells and consider that the patient’s cells are foreign and start attacking them.

Other complications that may arise include –

  • Stem cell failure
  • Organ damage
  • Infections
  • Cataracts
  • Infertility
  • New form of Cancer
  • Death

For Donors-

Many people have this question on their mind- Is it dangerous to donate Bone Marrow? Is it safe to donate Bone Marrow?

Well, Bone Marrow donation is not at all risky. The only complication a donor has to face is the effect of anaesthesia that is given during the surgery. So, the donor may end up feeling tired or week for a few days.  The complication other than this is soreness in the area from where the Bone Marrow is taken which remains for a few days.

Hope this article helped you with everything you would want to know about a Bone Marrow Transplant, its types, procedures and risks involved. Feel free to comment back with your further queries and we will do our best to solve them all.

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