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A bone marrow transplant may be defined as a process in which unhealthy and damaged bone marrow stem cells are replaced with healthy and functioning cells, through the process of surgery. Generally, bone marrow transplants are performed on patients that are suffering from diseases like leukemia, aplastic anaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, thalassaemia, etc.
Essentially there are three types of bone marrow transplants:
Auto Logous Transplant: in which the stem cells are taken from the patient’s blood itself.
Syngeneic Transplants: which takes the stem cells from the identical twin, if the patients has one.
Allogeneic Transplant: which uses the stem cells provided by the brother or sister of the patient. It may also be a close relative or a donor with no family connection if his stem cells genetic makeup matches the patient’s.
Stem cells that are used in the transplant necessarily have to be obtained from the center of the bone, which is called the marrow. The procedure of obtaining the cells from the donor is called Harvesting.
In this process the donor is first given anaesthesia, and then the cells are extracted through needles from the region of his pelvic bone. It is ensured that the cells are clean, after which they are preserved until the transplant process.
Progression in the field of science has led to the discovery that the umbilical cord can help in curing many such diseases. Expecting parents can consult blood banks, and preserve the blood from the umbilical cord at the time of the birth of their child, for use in the future if need arises. Before the surgery the patient is given anaesthesia and anti- cancer medicine. An intravenous method is adopted to transfer the healthy stem cells into the patient’s body.
This process takes around 3 – 4 hours. The stem cells on entering the body reach the bone marrow and start producing healthy cells, this is termed as engraftment.
Bone marrow transplantation is needed when a person suffers from life threatening diseases like leukemia, aplastic anaemia, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and others. Although the process is very effective in doing away with the distress of the patient, it is very expensive.
Proper care and looking after the patient is necessary. A bone marrow transplant today can be easily done if the patient’s umbilical cord blood is preserved by his parents in blood banks at the time of his birth.
The donor is generally under no risk because only a small amount of the bone marrow is removed from his body. The usual symptoms that he may have are stiffness, slight pain and weakness for a few days.