Stem Cell Transplantation For Children

November 12, 2012

Stem Cell Transplantation For Children

Stem cell transplantation is still a relatively new medical therapy that has already helped hundreds of children with conditions ranging from genetic diseases to cancer. Stem cells are cells that have the potential to grow into specific body cells with a little nudge from science. At first, stem cells were only found in fetuses, but they have also been found in afterbirth and in the bone marrow of adults and children.

The most common type of stem cell transplants are called hematopoietic stem cell transplantations. This means that stem cells from bone marrow can most easily grow into blood cells such as red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets.

Types of Transplants

There are two main types of stem cell transplantations for children. The types are determined by where the stem cells are taken from – the child needing treatment or from a donor.

  • Autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation uses the stem cells from the young patient. Stem cells are taken from the child, frozen and used as many times as necessary. This type of stem cell transplant is used mainly for children suffering from many types of cancers such as leukemia. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments for these children kill cancer cells but can also kill good cells. The transplant helps to restore the healthy cells to the child’s body.

  • Allergenic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation uses stem cells from someone other than the child receiving the stem cells. Siblings and close relatives are the usual donors, since their stem cells will be least likely to be rejected. A simple blood test can determine if a sibling or relative is a match for the sick child.

The Transplant Process

Stem cell transplantation is a laborious process requiring many steps over weeks. At least the child does not have to undergo dangerous surgery as if for an internal organ or a bone marrow transfer.

First, healthy stem cells are harvested from a donor or the hip bone marrow of the child. Some useful stem cells may be found in the the child’s blood supply. If a parent has banked the child’s stem cells from its umbilical cord, these cells can be taken out of the stem cell bank and used.

Next, the unhealthy bone marrow is mostly killed off through high doses of chemotherapy or radiation. This clears out a majority of cancer cells and unhealthy bone marrow cells and makes room for the new, healthy cells.

Finally, the stem cells are introduced to the child’s body through an intravenous drip. All of the stem cells cannot be given at once sitting or the child may suffer an allergic reaction and reject the stem cells. These sittings are spaced out in a few doses. This process can take anywhere from one to six weeks.

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