Bone marrow transplantation (BMT) is a lifesaving treatment that replaces a patient’s diseased cells with healthy blood-making stem cells. This complex procedure was first developed about 50 years ago to treat life-threatening cancers. Dr. E. Donnall Thomas, MD, one of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center’s founders, won the Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work with BMT.
Since its introduction, BMT has succeeded in boosting long-term survival rates from nearly zero to more than 85 percent for several serious blood cancers in children. The newest BMT methods—such as reduced-intensity transplants, half-matched transplants, and cord blood transplants—have made the procedure available to many more children. Increasingly, children and young adults with noncancerous conditions, such as aplastic anemia, immune disorders, and autoimmune disease, are also benefitting from BMT.
Although newer methods make BMT more effective and safer, the procedure remains an ordeal for many patients and their families, often involving a long tense wait for a donor match, substantial complications, and no guarantee of success. That’s why BMT is still appropriate only for those with life-threatening or severely debilitating disease—and why our researchers are working so hard on strategies for BMT improvement as well as new alternatives.
This section provides an introduction to the basics of transplants—their purpose, how they are done, the different types, and other facts that might interest families of children having BMT. Also, you can find practical information about preparing for a transplant—from the first phone call to SCCA through the hospital stay and the return home—in the section What To Expect.