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Stem cell transplant

Stem cell transplant replaces a person’s blood-forming (hematopoietic) stem cells. It is used when stem cells or the bone marrow has been damaged by chemotherapy drugs, radiation therapy or disease (such as cancer). The new stem cells make healthy blood cells.

Stem cells are young, immature cells. Stem cells mature (through a process called differentiation) to become different types of specialized cells. They can copy (replicate) themselves to replace or rebuild tissues in the body. Some stem cells mature into blood cells. Blood-forming stem cells develop into different types of blood cells in the bone marrow. When blood cells are mature, they move from the bone marrow into the bloodstream.

Stem cell transplants use blood-forming stem cells from the bone marrow and blood circulating in the body (peripheral blood) in adults. They may also use blood-forming stem cells from the umbilical cord (the cord that supplies a developing fetus with blood and nutrients). Sometimes a stem cell transplant may be described by the source of the stem cells. Stem cell transplant is also called:

  • bone marrow transplant
  • blood cell transplant (BCT)
  • peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT)
  • hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT)
  • high-dose therapy with stem cell rescue

There are 3 main types of stem cell transplants. They are described based on who donates the stem cells.

  • Allogeneic transplants use stem cells taken from one person (donor) and given to another person (recipient). The donor may be a relative (usually a sibling) or a volunteer who isn’t related to the recipient.
  • Syngeneic transplants are a type of allogeneic transplant. They use stem cells taken from one identical twin and given to the other twin.
  • Autologous transplants use stem cells taken from the recipient’s own bone marrow or blood.

Stem cell transplant for children

Both children and the family have questions and concerns about when stem cell transplant is done. Sometimes having a stem cell transplant can cause physical or psychological distress to children and their families. Being prepared and knowing what to expect can reduce anxiety for both children and parents. Parents can prepare children for and help them cope with a stem cell transplant by explaining what will happen in a way that the child will understand.

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