Bone marrow from your hip can help you get a new life. While this type of transplant can be done only when you have healthy bone marrow, it greatly reduces the risk of some severe complications.
When 10 year old Kim was learning about blood and the circulatory system, she was unaware of the technological marvels that help save lives, where blood, stem cells or bone marrow can be taken from a healthy donor and inserted to someone whose cells are fighting deadly diseases such as cancers. These marvels are just like organ donations, in a way and they are called transplants.
But healthy stem cells are not always required from another person, they can also be harvested or grown before the patient begins chemotherapy. However, what is important is how the cells are stored so that they can be used for transplant later.
As Kim continued to read, she found out that almost all components of blood are made from bone marrow. She read with increasing interest how each component has its own significance:
- Red Blood Cells or RBC: These transport oxygen and nutrients to various parts of the body.
- White Blood Cells or WBC: These are like soldiers, they are the protectors as they fight infection.
- Platelets: These are singularly responsible for creating blood clots.
Now Kim was intrigued about knowing what exactly is bone marrow, though she has it figured out that it produces blood.
What is Bone Marrow?
As the name hints, it is to be found inside the bone. Bone marrow is a spongy fatty tissue and contains blood-forming stem cells. This is where Kim was stumped. Why would anyone want to donate their bone marrow? She decided to meet an oncologist at a leading hospital to better understand bone marrow related concepts.
Why is a Bone Marrow Transplant necessary?
At times bone marrow may not be healthy enough to function properly, like in case of people afflicted with chronic ailments, usually types of cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and even multiple myeloma. This is when a transplant is required. It is also necessary when the bone marrow simply stops creating new stem cells. Other reasons are:
- Chemotherapy that could result in damaging the bone marrow
- Recurring infections caused by an inherited disorder known as congenital neutropenia
- An abnormal form of hemoglobin is churned out by the body in thalassemia patients
According to oncologists, a typical bone marrow transplant takes a week. It can be autologous or allogeneic and which type is to be used depends on why a transplant is needed.
Autologous Transplants: Here, the person’s own stem cells are use, which means they are harvested before therapy like radiation damages them and are placed in the body after the treatment is over.
Allogeneic Transplants: Contrary to autologous transplants, these heavily rely on a donor who has to be the closest genetic match. Not just this, these transplants require the immune system to be suppressed with medication so that the recepient’s body does not begin to attack the new cells. Lowering immunity has its own consequences: being susceptible to disease and illness. This is why the patient is segregated and kept in an isolated ward.
Another point to note is that, in an allogenic transplant, the stem cells are harvested from the donor, one or two days prior to the transplant.
A transplant can take an emotional toll and most city hospitals also have counsellors to be a stress buffer and soothe anxious relatives.
One of the noted medical oncologists in Mumbai, Dr Suresh Advani has been a pioneer in establishing bone marrow transplant in India and can be consulted at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai.