Stem Cells Replace Bone Marrow Transplants

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Treatment of some blood cancers wipes out healthy blood cells. Stem cells, immature cells that become various blood cells, are needed to replenish them. That used to mean surgery to collect the cells from bone marrow. But now there's an easier way. (KFSN)

Treatment of some blood cancers wipes out healthy blood cells. Stem cells, immature cells that become various blood cells, are needed to replenish them. That used to mean surgery to collect the cells from bone marrow. But now there's an easier way.

Inside these canisters are frozen stems cells with the power to prolong life. George Schwartz said he's living proof.

"So far, I'm in total remission, and I'm looking forward to a few more years," Schwartz told Ivanhoe.

Three years ago, the art restorer was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer. The only hope was high doses of chemotherapy to kill the bad cells, but chemo kills the healthy ones too, meaning a painful bone marrow transplant.

Krishna Komanduri, M.D. an oncologist at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center in Miami, Florida explained, "We literally had to do surgeries obtaining the stem cells that regrow the blood cells after chemotherapy from the bone marrow."

Doctors can now push the stem cells from the bone marrow and into the blood where they are easy to collect without an operation.

"I sat in a bed at the hospital, the clinic, and they drew blood," detailed Schwartz.

The blood containing the stem cells is stored, frozen, in a lab until the patient is admitted into the hospital for chemo.

Dr. Komanduri said, "A day or two later, the previously collected stem cells are infused into the vein just like a blood transfusion."

Studies show that multiple myeloma patients who undergo both chemo and a stem cell transplant survive longer and without symptoms.

"My youngest daughter got married and I was able to dance with her at her wedding, and now I'm looking forward to her having a baby," detailed Schwartz.

Schwartz is hoping to watch his grandchild grow up.

Doctors at blood cancer centers are now doing stem cell transplants in patients up to 75 years old. In some cases, the cells are harvested from a family member or from a stem cell registry, instead of from the patient.
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