The bone marrow is the tissue found inside bones, which contains special cells known as stem cells. These specialised cells produce the cells in the blood that have several important functions, such as forming the body’s immune system. Disease, infection, or cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy can damage the bone marrow stem cells. In these cases, bone marrow transplants are performed to replenish the destroyed stem cells with healthy cells. There are a host of surgery packages online to choose from.
The main aim of a bone marrow transplant is to treat several diseases and cancer types. It is also used to provide a new immune system to patients whose bone marrow has been destroyed by cancer treatments. It can also be employed to replace the bone marrow of individuals who have genetic conditions like adrenoleukodystrophy or Hurler’s syndrome. There are four main stages involved in bone marrow transplants:
- An examination which assesses if the patient is fit enough to undergo the surgery.
- Harvesting, or extracting, the stem cells from the blood or bone marrow of the donor.
- Transplanting the stem cells by injecting them into the patient’s bloodstream.
- Recovering from the transplant in the hospital for a month or two.
Based on the donor, there are three main types of bone marrow transplants:
- Autologous bone marrow transplant: In this method, the stem cell donor is the patient. Bone marrow stem cells are extracted from the patient before they go through chemotherapy or radiation. The stem cells are frozen until the cancer treatment terminates, following which they are injected into the patient’s blood through a vein. After about 24 hours, the stem cells finally reach the bone marrow where they replace the damaged stem cells and start functioning.
- Allogeneic bone marrow transplant: In this type, the stem cell donor and the patient share a similar genetic profile. Tests are conducted to show that the donor’s genes show at least a partial match for the patient’s. Stem cells are mostly harvested from a sibling but rarely from parents or children as well. Finding a donor with a genetic match is also an option, as several people donate their bone marrow.
- Umbilical cord blood transplant: As soon as a baby is born, stem cells are extracted from the umbilical cord. As umbilical cord stem cells have yet to develop, they can be used without the need for a perfect match with the patient. As soon as they are harvested, they are checked for viability and frozen until necessary. Umbilical cord stem cell therapy is a good option for those struggling to find a donor. As umbilical cord blood is stored in cancer treatment institutes worldwide, access to donor stem cells is more feasible.
As bone marrow transplants are a major surgery, several complications like anaemia, infections, organ damage, and transplant failure could occur. Talking to your doctor will help you balance the pros and cons before you undertake this procedure. The first 2-4 weeks after the transplant are the most crucial, and the patient will be monitored by means of white blood count. An increase in the count means that the new bone marrow is beginning to do its job. The usual recovery time after a bone marrow transplant is around 3 months, but it might take a year to completely recover.