Wednesday, 17 August 2022
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Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Learn more about stem cells and how they’re used in blood cancer treatment

BLOOD cancer research charity, Leukaemia & Myeloma Research UK’s (LMRUK) vision is to be the leading UK blood cancer charity specialising in stem cell therapy. They invest in adult stem cell research, work hard to raise awareness of stem cell therapies and offer a free, and part-funded stem cell storage service for qualifying families called the Model Cell Biobank. 

Here you will find out more about stem cells, stem cell transplants and how they aid the treatment of blood cancer and other diseases. 

What are stem cells?

Stem cells are produced by bone marrow and can divide themselves to produce more.

There are two types of stem cells: 

  • Embryonic stem cells – which can develop into any type of cell, for example, a skin cell, heart, liver or more
  • Adult stem cells – which typically generate the cell types of the tissue in which they reside. For example, a blood-forming adult stem cell in the bone marrow normally creates a new generation of blood cells, but cannot do the same for different tissue, such as nerve cells.

They can also change into specialised cells, such as blood cells. The three main types of blood cells are:

  • red blood cells – which carry oxygen around the body
  • white blood cells – which help fight infection
  • platelets – which help stop bleeding.

Where are stem cells found?

Stem cells can be sourced from four places in the body:

  • bone marrow, which requires extraction by harvesting
  • adipose tissue, which requires extraction by liposuction
  • blood, which requires the blood to be passed through a machine that extracts the stem cells and returns the rest of the blood to the body
  • the umbilical cord of a newborn baby, which can only be extracted at the time of birth

What can stem cells be used for?

For most types of blood cancer, such as leukaemia, myeloma and lymphoma, stem cells can be used as a form of treatment through a stem cell transplant. They can also be used to help treat other blood disorders, including sickle cell anaemia and aplastic anaemia.

What is a stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplants are used to treat conditions in which the bone marrow is damaged and is no longer able to produce healthy blood cells. Transplants can also be carried out to replace blood cells that are damaged or destroyed as a result of intensive cancer treatment.

There are two types of stem cell transplants: 

  • an allogeneic transplant 
  • an autologous transplant.

An allogeneic stem cell transplant involves taking healthy stem cells from the blood or bone marrow of a matched donor and transferring them into a patient. The aim is to destroy unhealthy blood cells and replace them with new, healthy cells. 

An autologous transplant involves removing stem cells from the patient’s body, followed by the removal of damaged or diseased cells through high doses of chemotherapy. The stem cells are then safely transplanted back into the patient.

What are the risks of a stem cell transplant?

A stem cell transplant will usually only be carried out if other treatments have not helped. They are complicated procedures, so it is important that people are aware of both the risks and the benefits before treatment. 

Possible problems that can occur during or after the transplant include:

  • graft versus host disease (GvHD) – this occurs in allogeneic transplants when the cells from the donor start to attack the other cells
  • reduced number of blood cells – this can lead to anaemia, excessive bleeding or bruising, and an increased risk of infections
  • chemotherapy side effects – sickness, tiredness, hair loss and infertility

A successful stem cell transplant will replace any damaged or diseased cells with new, healthy stem cells, which is why they are used to treat many forms of blood cancer and blood disorders.

To find out more about stem cells and stem cell transplants, please visit: https://lmruk.org/stem-cells/, or to read about the research LMRUK have invested in to find new and more effective treatments to beat blood cancer, head over to their website by clicking here: https://lmruk.org/research-articles/. 

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