How Autologous Stem Cell Transplants Work

Autologous stem cell transplant is a technologically advanced process that involves four steps:

  1. Stem cells are harvested from the bone marrow or peripheral blood of the patient. In some cases, the pool of donor stem cells are treated to kill (“purged”) cancerous cells.
  2. The patient receives high doses of chemotherapy with or without radiation in an attempt to destroy cancerous cells. The chemotherapy also destroys the patient’s marrow.
  3. To restore the patient’s marrow (which is needed for a properly functioning immune system), the patient’s marrow or blood stem cells that have been harvested before the administration of high-dose chemotherapy or radiation therapy are delivered intravenously. The process of infusion is much like a blood transfusion. The stem cells find their way through the blood stream to the center of the long bones.
  4. Supportive care with blood products, antibiotics and anti-viral drugs allows many patients to recover while their blood counts are low. This therapy helps the new bone marrow to become established in the patient.