What is a Blood Stem Cell Transplant?

Blood stem cell transplants include bone marrow,peripheral blood stem cel, and cord blood transplants.

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A blood stem cell transplant is a medical procedure used to treat people with a variety of life-threatening diseases.

More than 50,000 people worldwide undergo a blood stem cell transplant each year.

The technical name for a blood stem cell transplant is hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT or HCT). You may also hear the procedure referred to as a:

  • bone marrow transplant
  • stem cell transplant (or peripheral blood stem cell transplant)
  • cord blood transplant

Throughout this website, we will use the term stem cell transplant to refer to all three types of transplant.

What are blood stem cells?

Blood stem cells, or hematopoietic stem cells, are special cells that generate most of the body’s blood cells:.

  • white blood cells (leukocytes) fight infection
  • red blood cells (erythrocytes) carry oxygen to, and remove waste from, organs and tissues
  • platelets enable blood to clot

Blood stem cells live in the bone marrow - the spongy tissue inside our bones. Blood stem cells are also found in the discarded placenta and umbilical cord of newborn babies.

Who Needs a Bone Marrow, Stem Cell or Cord Blood Transplant?

Sometimes the blood stem cells in bone marrow malfunction and begin producing too many defective or immature blood cells. The abnormal cells are cancer cells that can interfere with the production of normal blood cells and may invade other tissues.

Alternatively, the blood stem cells may produce too few blood cells. When either of these events occurs, a stem cell transplant may be the recommended treatment.

A stem cell transplant may also be a treatment option for you if you have an inherited disease such as certain immune deficiency diseases.

Different Types of Blood Stem Cell Transplants

There are different types of blood stem cell transplants. 

  • Bone marrow transplants (BMT) use blood stem cells collected from the bone marrow.
  • Peripheral blood stem cell transplants (PBSCT) use blood stem cells collected from the bloodstream.
  • Cord blood transplants (CBT) use blood stem cells collected from the discarded placenta and umbilical cord of a new born baby. 

The type of transplant also varies according to who provides the cells for the transplant.

  • Autologous (aw-tól-o-gus) stem cell transplants use cells previously collected from the patient.
  • Allogeneic(al-o-je-náy-ik) stem cell transplants use cells provided by a donor.
  • Syngeneic(sin-je-náy-ik) stem cell transplants use cells provided by an identical twin.

(Watch a short video about autologous transplantation (a transplant using your own cells).

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Next Page: Diseases Treated by Transplant

Updated June 2024