How Allogeneic Stem Cell Transplant Works

Allogeneic stem cell transplantation is more complex than autologous transplantation because of the interaction between the donor’s immune cells and the immune system of the recipient. Potentially fatal complications include graft failure and graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Graft failure occurs when the recipient’s immune system recognizes the donor’s stem cells as foreign; the signs and symptoms of GvHD include rashes, liver problems, vomiting and diarrhea.

  1. Stem cells are harvested from the bone marrow, umbilical cord blood or peripheral blood of the donor, who may or may not be related to the patient.
  2. The patient receives high doses of chemotherapy with or without radiation. In addition, immunosuppressive agents that destroy the patient’s immune (or infection-fighting) system may be given.
  3. Stem cells from donor marrow, cord blood or peripheral blood are administered intravenously; this infusion is much like a blood transfusion. The stem cells find their way through the bloodstream to the center of the long bones.
  4. Supportive care with blood products, antibiotics, anti-viral drugs, and, in some cases, immunosuppressive medications to prevent GvHD allows many patients to recover from the stem cell transplant process.