A stem cell transplant (also called bone marrow transplant) is the infusion of healthy stem cells into the body to stimulate new bone marrow growth. Stem cells are vital to a person's ability to fight infection. Stem cell transplants are performed on children whose stem cells have been damaged by disease or invasive treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. There are two types of stem cell transplant:
- Autologous transplants, in which the patient's own stem cells are collected, stored at a special laboratory and re-introduced into the patient's system intravenously.
- Allogeneic transplants, in which stem cells are collected from a tissue-matched donor (a sibling, an unrelated donor, or umbilical cord blood) and delivered intravenously.
We perform both autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplants to treat a range of cancerous and non-cancerous conditions.
Stem Cell Transplant Process Overview
All children undergoing a stem cell transplant are given high-dose chemotherapy to make room in their bone marrow for the new stem cells, suppress their immune system to prevent graft rejection, and destroy cancer cells in their body. After this conditioning regimen, they are given a few days' rest before their transplant.
Like a blood transfusion, stem cells are given to a child through an intravenous catheter. Children are awake through this painless process. It generally takes two to six weeks for the engraftment to "take" and for the stem cells to multiply and make new blood cells.
Minor side effects, such as fever, chills, and shortness of breath can accompany the infusion of new stem cells. More significant complications, including graft rejection and graft-versus-host disease (a condition in which the donor's immune cells attack the patient's body), can occur following the transplant.
We offer several support programs and services to children who are recovering from a stem cell transplant:
- The David B. Perini Jr. Quality of Life Clinic helps survivors of childhood cancer address the long-term effects of treatment. This includes special programs to ease patients' transition to post-transplant life.
- A multidisciplinary clinic, staffed by nutritionists, endocrinologists, physical therapists, dermatologists, psychologists and social workers for childhood cancer survivors of all ages, as well as a special follow-up clinic for stem cell transplant patients.
- A clinic that addresses the needs of patients with graft-versus-host disease, a potentially serious complication following stem cell transplant. Patients meet with multiple medical experts during an outpatient visit to learn how to best manage the disease and its symptoms.
Pediatric Stem Cell Transplant Guidebooks
Dana-Farber/Boston Children's has created guidebooks to help patients and their families to navigate the stem cell transplant process and post-stem cell transplant home care.