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50 Years of Innovation, Progress, and Exceptional Care in Stem Cell Transplantation

  • Fifty years ago, Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital initiated a joint bone marrow transplant program. In the early 1980s, Dana-Farber launched its own transplant program. When the programs merged in 1996, Joseph Antin, MD, and Robert Soiffer, MD, collaborated to create one of the largest adult programs in the nation, with a robust research engine to improve stem cell transplant treatment and outcomes. It is now one of largest programs in the country and performs more unrelated donor transplants than any other program.

    The progress we have made as a program and throughout the field of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is incredible. Through innovation, research, and advanced patient care, we are able to utilize stem cell transplantation to offer a cure and a better quality of life to an increasing number of patients. Some key advances are summarized below.

  • Stem Cell Transplant Through the Years

  • Patient Age

    Then

    Maximum age was 35.

    Now

    With the introduction of reduced-intensity regimens and better management of complications, we now transplant patients into their mid-70s — important progress, as blood cancers often affect older individuals.

    then and now: stem cell transplant patient age
  • Annual Transplant Volume

    Then

    When our programs merged in 1996, we were performing approximately 250 transplants each year.

    Now

    We perform more than 500 transplants annually.

    then and now: stem cell transplant annual transplant volume
  • Donor Types

    Then

    Related (mainly matched siblings only)

    Now

    With advances in HLA typing and the understanding of graft-versus-host disease, we have extended our donor pool to include HLA-matched unrelated donors, mismatched unrelated donors, umbilical cord donors, and half-matched family donors (parents, siblings, children, even nieces and nephews).

    then and now: stem cell transplant donor types
  • Stem Cell Sources

    Then

    Bone marrow harvests were the main source of stem cells.

    Now

    We can now source stem cells from the bone marrow, peripheral blood, or umbilical cord blood.

    then and now: stem cell transplant stem cell sources
  • Cell Processing

    Then

    Processed in an individual research lab

    Now

    Processed and manipulated at our state-of-the-art GMP facility, the Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility (CMCF). The CMCF conducts advanced processing techniques for stem cell transplants, as well as cell manufacturing for other types of cellular therapy for many types of cancer.

    then and now: stem cell transplant cell processing
  • One-Year Survival Outcomes

    Then

    56–58% (for transplants prior to 2000)

    Now

    75–76% (based on 2021 Transplant Center-Specific Survival Report from the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research for unrelated and related donor stem cell transplants)

    then and now: stem cell transplant one-year survival outcomes
  • Thanks to Our Team, Our Patients, and Caregivers

    thank you

    As we mark the 50th anniversary of our program, we extend a heartfelt thanks to our entire team. Whether they are working with patients directly or behind the scenes, our extraordinary team shows an unwavering focus on making the best decisions to help patients through their treatment journey and achieve the best possible outcomes.

    We also thank our patients and their caregivers for their trust and commitment to this complex treatment. We will continue working to make stem cell transplant more tolerable and accessible, and achieve even better outcomes.

  • 50 Years of Advancing Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies for Cancer Patients

    1970s

    Jerome Ritz, MD (right), and the Cell Manipulation Core Facility lab director in an early cell manipulation lab.
    Jerome Ritz, MD (right), and the Cell Manipulation Core Facility lab director in an early cell manipulation lab.
    • Transplant program established as first in New England
    • First transplant performed at combined pediatric and adult program at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital

    1980s

    • Developed antibodies that purge patient's body of their own bone marrow; used first in pediatric patients with ALL; then in adults with leukemia and B-cell lymphoma
    • Autologous transplant program began at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
    • Demonstrated safety and effectiveness of T-cell depletion to reduce graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
    • First use of monoclonal antibodies to prevent GVHD
    • First use of DNA technology to distinguish host and donor cells from one another in order to reliably document and characterize successful engraftment
    • Immunotherapy using interleukin-2 (IL-2) following bone marrow transplants enhances patient's immunity against tumors

    1990s

    Stem cells are frozen and stored in cryopreservation tanks for future use.
    Stem cells are frozen and stored in cryopreservation tanks for future use.
    • Demonstrated that effective "purging" of bone marrow associated with improved outcomes for patients with follicular lymphoma
    • Joined the National Marrow Donor Program as a transplant, collection, and donor center
    • Our research into the biology of GVHD identified cytokines as important contributors to GVHD. Our team identified the role of B cells in GVHD, leading to the development of anti-B cell therapies including ibrutinib. Later, our studies showed that regulatory T cells were deficient in GVHD, leading to the use of IL-2 for chronic GVHD and autoimmune diseases. Related study
    • First US use of donor lymphocyte infusion (DLI) as a cure for relapsed leukemia after transplant. Confirmed the immune system role in controlling leukemia. This ultimately led to the use of reduced-intensity transplants, enabling older adults to receive transplant.
    • Connell and O'Reilly Families Cell Manipulation Core Facility (CMCF) established as CORE for Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center
    • Began development of first drug (defibrotide) with potential to reverse veno-occlusive disease

    2000s

    Joseph Antin, MD, with the stem cell transplant inpatient team
    Joseph Antin, MD, with the stem cell transplant inpatient team.
    • Received FACT accreditation for the stem cell transplant program, stem cell collection program, and lab. With this accreditation, the CMCF can perform complex cell manufacturing and gene therapy.
    • Non-myeloablative transplant approach developed to strengthen graft-versus-leukemia effect
    • First use of sirolimus for GVHD prevention
    • Pasquarello Tissue Bank established to prospectively collect and analyze blood samples for transplant, leukemia and lymphoma research studies. To date, the Bank includes more than 20,000 patients registered and more than 190,000 samples.
    • 500th unrelated donor adult transplant
    • First CMCF expansion complete; moved to a GMP cell processing facility
    • 1000th unrelated blood stem cell transplant
    • Demonstrated that immunization with irradiated autologous tumor cells genetically engineered to secrete GM-CSF (GVAX) could induce potent anti-tumor immunity
    • Umbilical cord blood donation program launched

    2010s

    processing CAR T cells in a bio-safety cabinet
    The CMCF manufactures and processes cellular products for stem cell transplant and novel cellular therapies.

    2020s

    The Pasquarello Tissue Bank stores blood samples from thousands of patients to improve our understanding and use of stem cell transplant and other cellular therapies
    The Pasquarello Tissue Bank stores blood samples from thousands of patients to improve our understanding and use of stem cell transplant and other cellular therapies.

  • Program leaders share insight on the history of the program, progress, and important research efforts that have helped improve this important treatment for patients with blood cancers and blood disorders.


  • Teamwork is integral to caring for patients who receive a stem cell transplant to treat their cancer. As we recognize the 50th anniversary of the adult stem cell transplantation program at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, team members and patients share their perspective on the stem cell transplant care team.


  • Dennis has received two stem cell transplants at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center. His experiences show that scientific advances save lives. He benefitted from advances in stem cell transplantation that expanded the available sources of donor stem cells. Hear Dennis’s story.

  • What Does the Dana-Farber Brigham Stem Cell Transplant Program Mean to You?

    Whether you are a staff member, patient, caregiver, community member, or donor, we want to hear from you! What does our adult stem cell transplant program mean to you? What message do you have for the transplant care team? What memories of the program do you have? Make a public post (text, photo, or even video) on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook. Include the hashtag #StemCellTransplant50.

    Not on social media or prefer to contribute directly? Submit your message through this online form.