Bone marrow plays an important role in generating blood cells in the body. These blood cells carry oxygen to the lungs and fight infection in your body. Imagine your bone marrow is not producing red blood cells. In such cases, a doctor will recommend a bone marrow transplantation.
Before we understand what is the process of transplantation, let’s understand what is bone marrow. It is a soft spongy tissue found inside your hip and thigh bone. It contains stem cells that are responsible for the production of red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
These cells have important responsibilities such as:
- Carrying oxygen to various parts of the body
- Fighting infections
- Avoiding blood clots
In order for all of this to take place, your bone marrow must function normally. Any sign of damage or infection could lead to various fatal diseases that can be life-threatening.
- What is Bone Marrow Transplantation?
- How Do You Know If You’ve Got the Right Donor?
- How is Bone Marrow Collected for Transplant?
- How is Bone Marrow Transplant Done?
- Life After a Bone Marrow Transplant
What is Bone Marrow Transplantation?
A bone marrow transplant is done to replace an infected or damaged bone marrow. Your medical practitioner will use this medical procedure to transplant blood stem cells into your bone that will promote growth and production of new blood cells. In simple terms, this medical process replaces your damaged stem cells with healthy cells. For this, you need a healthy donor.
A healthy donor can donate stem cells or in certain cases, these cells will be taken from your own body. If your bone marrow has been infected, it does not mean that all its production of stem cell is infected. There are certain amounts of it that can be taken into research, grown and stored for transplantation in the future.
How Do You Know If You’ve Got the Right Donor?
When the patient’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matches with that of a donor’s HLA, a doctor will suggest a marrow transplant. So what is HLA? It is a protein found in most cells of your body. Finding the right HLA is what most doctors would initially do. The right donor with the right kind of HLA means that the patient can be saved. Here is what determines the fact that you have the right kind of donor.
- Your doctor will choose a list of donors who appear to be the right match.
- If a donors HLA closely matches, then he/she will be ready for transplant.
Also Read How to Become a Marrow Donor in India?
How is Bone Marrow Collected for Transplant?
A bone marrow transplantation procedure is similar to that of blood transfusion. There are 3 types of bone marrow transplants that are done based on your medical condition. Here is how you will be treated while getting a transplant done.
1. Autologous Marrow Transplant
This medical procedure involves stem cells that are removed from your own body before you are treated for chemotherapy or radiation. The word autologous means self wherein a doctor will remove healthy stem cells from your body and store it in a freezer for future use. After these cells are harvested and developed, your doctor will place it back into your body so that it begins producing normal stem cells.
2. Allogeneic Marrow Transplant
In this medical procedure, stem cells will be taken from a different person called a donor. There are a number of tests that are done to determine the best suitable donor. So, how do you get the right donor? A sibling or close relative would make a good match or you will have to search for an outsider through the marrow donor registry of India. You can also inform your hospital regarding the same.
3. Umbilical Cord Blood Transplant
In this medical procedure, stem cells are taken from a newborn’s umbilical cord (a pipe that connects the fetus in the womb) after its birth. The stem cells are removed and kept in a freezer until it is ready for transplantation.
4. Stem Cells Transplant
A doctor may use two different ways of collecting stem cells such as:
- Bone Marrow Harvest: The bone marrow will be removed from a donor’s back and hip bones. The amount of marrow that is removed depends on the patient’s weight.
- Leukapheresis: This medical procedure separates white blood cells from the blood. Blood is removed from a donor through an IV (intravenous) line.
Also Read How to Live After a Spinal Cord Injury?
How is Bone Marrow Transplant Done?
Marrow transplantation involves two ways of transplanting stem cells. Here is what you need to know.
This process conditions the patient’s bone marrow to make room for new stem cells to grow. It also prevents the patient’s body from rejecting transplanted cells. In simple terms, this process conditions the patient before getting a marrow transplant done. Here is what conditioning can do to you:
- Makes space in the patient’s bone marrow for new stem cells to be transplanted.
- Helps your body kill cancer cells.
- Reduce immune system function so that your body rejects the growth of new cells.
This medical process will take a week until your doctor is convinced that your condition permits a transplant.
Once your bone marrow has completed the conditioning process, you must be ready for the final step i.e. transplantation. So, how does a doctor transplant stem cells into your bone marrow?
- Step 1: A thin tube will be connected into a vein in your chest and stem cells will be passed through it.
- Step 2: The injected stem cells enter your bone marrow and it will take 2 weeks for your blood cells to reach a normal rate.
- Step 3: Your doctor will check your blood cell count every time you go for a general consultation.
Life After a Bone Marrow Transplant
After you have undergone a successful transplant, you will be kept in a special room to avoid infections. Anyone visiting you will have to wash their hands, wear surgical masks and gloves. There are few signs that you may face side-effects and if you do, here is what you could possibly experience.
- Severe diarrhoea
- Nose bleeding
- Mouth sores
- Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
- Stomach upset
- Chilling fever
- Shortness in breath
- Garlic taste in your mouth
- Chest pain
Here are some frequently asked questions that will give you a better insight into the afterlife of a person who has undergone a bone marrow transplant.
- What happens after I complete the donation process?
It takes 2 or 3 days to heal if you do not have any side effects.
- What happens after a bone marrow transplant?
After a successful transplant, you will be kept under medical observation until the transplanted cells begin to multiply and function normally. It takes several weeks for the new stem cells to return to a normal rate.
- Is bone marrow transplant painful for the donor?
This procedure is usually an outpatient one and you will receive anaesthesia. This will make you feel no pain during surgery. A doctor will inject a needle into your bone to collect liquid marrow from the back of your pelvic bone.
- Does race matter to find the right donor?
Race and ethnic origin play a vital role in bone marrow transplant. Most successful donors are found in the same ethnic group as the patient.
- Can a female donate stem cells to a male?
Yes. A woman can donate stem cells to a man. For a woman, only another woman can donate because of the genes they carry.
- How long does a transplant surgery take?
It takes about 2 hours for a doctor to collect liquid marrow through a needle pierced through the donor’s hip bone.
- What are the risks of being a donor?
A donor may face minimal risks after donating. You may have to be injected to increase the number of your stem cells and this may cause muscle pain, headache, fatigue, nausea and vomiting.
- What tests are done before a bone marrow transplant?
Before you are sent inside the surgery room, a doctor will conduct the following tests.
- Blood test
- Urine test (Urinalysis)
- Electrocardiogram (To check your heart)
- A complete medical history including a physical exam
- Chest X-ray
Bone marrow plays a vital role in generating cells that fight infection and carry oxygen to various parts of your body. However, it is important that you consume foods rich in vitamins, iron and proteins.