Some patients with blood cancers and other diseases (thalassemia, aplastic anaemia etc.) are treated with haematopoietic stem cell transplantation. This is also known as bone marrow transplantation. Haematopoietic stem cells are the cells from which all other types of blood cells can be formed. These stem cells are produced in the bone marrow which is seen within the bones. The stem cells are taken from the patient himself (Autologous transplantation) or from another donor (Allogeneic transplantation) depending on the disease being treated. Autologous transplantation is mostly done for lymphomas and multiple myelomas. Allogeneic transplantation is done for diseases like leukemias, aplastic anemia and bone marrow failure syndromes, primary immunodeficiencies and thalassemias. During transplant, patients are kept in isolated HEPA-filtered rooms and are given sterilized water and cooked and steamed food to prevent the risk of infections. The patients, doctors and nurses wear special sterilized clothes.
After the stem cell transplantation, it takes 2 – 3weeks for the donor’s stem cells to start producing normal blood cells. Following the transplantation, patients are kept under follow up and they are required to be on certain medicines. Transplant patients are followed up in the Post-transplant clinic which runs every Mondays and Thursdays in the afternoon.
The Department of Clinical Haematology at Christian Medical College, Vellore runs the country’s largest stem cell transplantation programme. The first stem cell transplantation in CMC was done in 1986. Since then around 1600 allogeneic stem cell transplants and 600 autologous stem cell transplants have been done so far. Haplo-identical stem cell transplants (transplants with donor who is HLA half matched with the patient) are also done in CMC and so far more than 100 such transplants have been done in this department. Every year around 150 allogeneic and 60 autologous stem cell transplants are done here.