More commonly called bone marrow transplants, this procedure is familiar to most of us as a treatment for leukemia. Bone marrow stem cells, however, can be applied as a permanent treatment or even cure for a number of both malignant and non-malignant disorders, including inherited and autoimmune disorders. Although promising research will likely make bone marrow stem cell transplants safe and widely available, the current limitations of a traditional bone marrow transplant are significant.
At the present time, a bone marrow transplant require marrow donors and recipients to be a perfect genetic match. Even among siblings, the chance of finding a perfect match is less than 25%. In addition, the risk of life threatening complications associated with a traditional bone marrow transplant can be as high as 40% even with a perfect genetic match. Graft-versus-host-disease (GVHD), the most common and potentially fatal complication of transplantation, occurs when cells in the transplanted donor marrow recognize the recipient as “foreign” and attack the recipient’s body. The liver, skin, mucosa and GI tract are the most common targets. GVHD can be either acute or chronic. Acute GVHD occurs within the first 100 days of a transplant; chronic GVHD occurs after the first 100 days. In some cases of leukemia, a mild form of GVHD is desirable because it may assist the recipient in fighting tumors.