Stem Cell Transplant

What is a stem cell transplant?

A stem cell transplant (also called bone marrow transplant) is the infusion of healthy stem cells into the body to stimulate new bone marrow growth. Stem cells are vital to a person’s ability to fight infection. Stem cell transplants are performed on children whose stem cells have been damaged by disease or invasive treatments for cancer such as chemotherapy and or radiation therapy. There are two types of stem cell transplant:

  • Autologous transplants, in which the patient’s own stem cells are collected, stored at a special laboratory and re-introduced into the patient’s system intravenously.
  • Allogeneic transplants, in which stem cells are collected from a tissue-matched donor (a sibling, an unrelated donor, or umbilical cord blood) and delivered intravenously. Learn how we can help find a stem cell donor.

We perform both autologous and allogeneic stem cell transplants to treat a range of cancerous and non-cancerous conditions. Learn about conditions treated by stem cell transplants.

Close up IV set, add blood and blurry of patient illness sleeping on hospital bed. Medical equipment concept.

A big step toward curbing graft-vs.-host disease

A rheumatoid arthritis drug has moved a step closer to FDA approval for a desperately needed new use — preventing acute graft-versus-host disease in patients receiving bone marrow transplants.


The stem cell transplant process

All children undergoing a stem cell transplant are given high-dose chemotherapy to make room in their bone marrow for the new stem cells, suppress their immune system to prevent graft rejection, and destroy cancer cells in their body. After this conditioning regimen, they are given a few days’ rest before their transplant.

Like a blood transfusion, stem cells are given to a child through an intravenous catheter. Children are awake through this painless process. It generally takes two to six weeks for the engraftment to “take” and for the stem cells to multiply and make new blood cells.

Minor side effects, such as fever, chills and shortness of breath, can accompany the infusion of new stem cells. More significant complications, including graft rejection and graft-versus-host disease (a condition in which the donor’s immune cells attack the patient’s body), can occur following the transplant. Learn more about what to expect during a stem cell transplant.

How we approach stem cell transplant

Patients needing a stem cell transplant are treated through the Stem Cell Transplant Center at Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center. Dana-Farber/Boston Children's, an integrated pediatric oncology program through Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital, provides — in one specialized program — all the services of both a leading cancer center and a pediatric hospital. Our Stem Cell Transplant Program is one of the most experienced and largest pediatric transplant centers in the nation.