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Bone Marrow Transplant Pioneer Reaches Historic Milestone

By Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger
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Bone marrow transplantation today is a gold standard treatment for several diseases. For tens of thousands of people, the ability to have this type of procedure has meant the difference between life and death. One of the key reasons this is possible is the pioneering work done by City of Hope medical center near Los Angeles.

Nearly 35 years ago, City of Hope physicians performed one of the nation’s first successful transplants. Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation—collectively known as hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT)—is a complex, often lifesaving procedure in which stem cells are used to help cure cancer. It is most often used for patients with leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

On Jan. 13, 2011, City of Hope performed its 10,000th transplant, becoming one of the first institutions in the world to reach this milestone. The patient had advanced leukemia and received stem cells from an unrelated volunteer donor who was a compatible match.

“Day to day, our work is all about a single life at stake that we’re trying to save,” said Stephen J. Forman, M.D., chair of the Department of Hematology and Hematopoietic Cell Transplantation. “Reaching 10,000, you think about the many people—children and adults—who have benefited, and the many wonderful people who from City of Hope’s care and research have come here trusting us to care for them, hoping for a cure.”

City of Hope performed its first successful bone marrow transplant in 1976 on a young college student from Indiana who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. His physician told him he should prepare himself for inevitable death. But his cousin, a physician in Los Angeles, knew that City of Hope was launching a bone marrow transplant program. The young student went to City of Hope to undergo a bone marrow transplant, and he has remained in remission for 35 years.

City of Hope is designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center, the highest honor bestowed by the National Cancer Institute, and performs nearly 500 bone marrow transplant procedures each year. During transplant, patients typically undergo high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiation that helps eradicate the cancer cells but also destroy their bone marrow and immune systems. Patients then receive stem cells from one of several sources which then rebuild their blood and immune systems.

Different sources of stem cells can be utilized depending on the disease and the availability of stem cell donors. Autologous transplants isolate and use the patient’s own healthy stem cells. Related donor allogeneic transplants use donor stem cells from a compatible relative or sibling, while unrelated donor allogeneic transplants use cells from altruistic volunteers who registered themselves as potential bone marrow donors. Umbilical cord blood stem cells also can be used.

City of Hope recently was recognized by the National Marrow Donor Program registry as the only center in 2010 to achieve above average survival rates in unrelated transplants for five consecutive years.

“All of our research and treatment efforts reflect our commitment to patients and their families—recognizing each of them as a dignified human being with a story to tell and a life to live,” said Forman. “They also are our partners in developing new therapies for those who will come to us tomorrow for care.There are a significant number of people who are alive today because they were and are a part of something we did at City of Hope that was both bold and new.”

City of Hope laboratory and clinical scientists are conducting research that will make transplants safer and more effective, and help extend the length and quality of patients’ lives. New transplant procedures are improving cure rates, extending the procedure to older patients and expanding the use of transplants to diseases beyond leukemias, lymphomas and myelomas.

For More Information:

City of Hope: http://www.cityofhope.org/

Transplant basics for patients and families:

Becoming a donor:

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society: Transplantation Information

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.