What is stem cell treatment

Bone marrow or stem cell therapy

In some cancers, stem cell transfer can cure cancer patients; B. in patients with acute leukemia. In this process, healthy stem cells, which continuously produce new blood cells, are transferred from a donor to the patient. Before such a transplant, all cancer cells must first be rendered harmless by chemotherapy and / or radiation therapy (Conditioning). As a result, the body's immune defense is almost completely switched off and there is a high risk of infection. As a precautionary measure, patients therefore receive antibiotics against bacterial and antimycotics against fungal infections. During this time, those affected are accommodated in special clinic wards, to which contact persons only have access with protective clothing and face masks.

In the past, stem cells could only be obtained from the bone marrow. With this method, about 1 liter of bone marrow-blood mixture is removed from the pelvic bone with a needle under general anesthesia. For the procedure, the donor must stay in a center specializing in such treatments for 2-3 days. The donor can be the patient himself (autologous transplant) or a healthy person who has largely identical tissue characteristics (allogeneic transplant). Whenever possible, patients' siblings are preferred as donors, as they can be expected to prevent the immune reaction between the donated bone marrow and the body from being too strong. The probability of finding a suitable family donor is around 30%. The search for a bone marrow donor is usually carried out using donor cards that operate across Europe.

Today stem cells can not only be obtained from bone marrow, but also from the blood. To do this, the donor's blood is passed through a special centrifuge (Blood cell separator), which separates the blood into its components. Before this, the donor receives a hormone-like substance for 5 days that stimulates the production of stem cells. This process (Leukapharesis) is repeated 2 to 6 times and takes about 5-6 hours in total.

Extracting stem cells from the blood has the advantage that it can be carried out without hospitalization and without general anesthesia. In addition, the removed stem cells grow faster so that the production of healthy blood begins earlier. Which procedure is used in each individual case depends on the individual situation of the patient.

Protection against infection

To reduce the risk of a rejection reaction, people who have had a stem cell transplant are given drugs that inhibit the immune system for a long time (Immunosuppressants). During this time, patients are at increased risk of infection. It usually takes about a year for the body's defense system to function properly again.

With the help of the following rules, patients can protect themselves from infections after a stem cell transplant:

  • As little or no contact as possible with animals and plants
  • Garden or potting soil can contain dangerous microorganisms: avoid gardening and remove indoor plants from the bedroom. Hydroponics reduce the risk of infection because they are less likely to get moldy
  • Avoid large gatherings of people
  • Pay attention to good personal hygiene
  • Raw or soft eggs, fried eggs, tiramisu, pudding or egg whites can contain salmonella
  • Cook foods well and avoid raw dairy products, raw meat or fish
  • Do not store food that needs refrigeration out of the refrigerator and use opened food immediately
  • Avoid spices and nuts as they can contain mold
  • Avoid bio bins and compost heaps: both contain extremely high levels of mold spores