Stem cells are the basic building blocks of life, the basic cell from which our bodies are made. They are formed at conception and specialized to become all the different tissues of the body: muscle, nerve, organs, bone, blood and so on.
When do we use our body’s stem cells?
We tap into our body’s stem cell reserve to repair and replace injured or diseased tissue. Unfortunately our reserve is finite and as it becomes depleted, the regenerative power of our body decreases and we succumb to diseases, disorder and the ravages of aging.
What is stem cell transplant?
A stem cell transplant is the infusion of healthy cells to replace diseased or damaged ones.
How important is stem cell transplant to leukemia patients?
Cancer, particularly leukemia, is an important disease for stem cell transplants; bone and peripheral blood stem cell transplants have been used for decades. A patient receives chemotherapy or radiation treatment to destroy the cancer cells but unfortunately, healthy cells are also damaged. A stem cell transplant can replace the lost and damaged cells with fresh, functioning ones, which can then provide the red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets that are important to metabolism, clotting and immunity. The other benefit of this treatment is that the newly formed white blood cells can further improve immune function such that they destroy any remaining cancer cells in the marrow.
What are the risks?
Stem cell transplants still have several risks associated with the procedure. Some people will find they experience few issues while others may require consistent monitoring and repeated hospital stays. Some of the complications that can occur with a stem cell transplant are:
- damage to organs or blood vessels
- graft versus host disease
Thus, although some people will experience few complications, others may find they suffer from short and long-term problems associated with a stem cell transplant. The success varies widely and it is impossible to predict who will experience side effects and to what degree they will occur.
In most cases, the benefits of stem cell transplants will likely outweigh the risk of complications and these techniques can truly be life-saving for conditions such as leukemia and aplastic anemia. It is hoped and anticipated that future research can yield successful therapies for a broader range of diseases.
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