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Medical Miracles: Bone Marrow Transplant

Meet your guide...

Madeline Wacker, Monona Grove High School class of 2017, will be attending UW-Oshkosh this fall in hopes of becoming a critical care nurse. She was interested in the topic, bone marrow transplant, because her grandma was diagnosed with leukemia five years ago and received a bone marrow transplant a little over four years ago. Due to the medical discoveries and techniques associated with bone marrow transplants over the years, her grandma was able to beat extremely low odds of recovery. Madeline looked forward to learning about the medical advancements that saved her grandma and tons of others diagnosed with similar diseases. 

Bone Marrow Transplants

Medical Miracle

Bone Marrow Transplant: ​A bone marrow transplant is a procedure in which damaged or destroyed bone marrow is replaced with healthy bone marrow stem cells in order to treat blood cancers such as leukemia. Bone marrow is the fatty, soft tissue within your bones that produces blood cells. Stem cells are immature cells inside of the bone marrow that are able to produce all different blood cells. 

Autologous Bone Marrow Transplant: The transplanted stem cells come from the body of the patient having the transplant. The doctors remove the stem cells from the patient, store them, and then put these cells back after destroying the cancer or diseased cells with conditioning. The patient acts as his or her own donor.

Allogeneic Bone Marrow Transplant: The transplanted stem cells can come from a donor. In certain serious conditions, allogeneic transplants can boost the chances of a patient's long-term recovery. Allogeneic transplants can be riskier than autologous transplants because the cells of the donor and the recipient mix, which can lead to graft-versus-host disease.


  1. Related Donor Transplant: Relatives are the most ideal as potential donors because of the likelihood of a very close match. Siblings are likely to be the closest match, identical twins are an exact match.

  2. Matched Unrelated Donor Transplant: When no matching relative is available, doctors are able to search an international registry for an unrelated donor who is a match.

  3. Half-matched Family Member Donor Transplant: Parents are always a half-match for their children and siblings have a 50% chance of being half-matched.


Umbilical Cord Blood Transplant: The blood from the umbilical cord of a newborn is used. The immune cells in cord blood have not yet become active in attacking other cells making them less likely to attack the transplant recipient’s tissues. Cord blood stem cells do not need to be as close of a match as needed in other types of transplants.


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Significant Discovery

First successful human bone-marrow transplant: Performed by Dr. Thomas in Cooperstown NY, in the late 1950s. It involved identical twins, one of whom had leukemia. Since identical twins share the same genetic makeup, it avoids the problems of graft-vs.-host disease.


First non-twin sibling bone-marrow transplant: In Minnesota in 1968, the first successful non-twin transplant was performed. The donor was a sibling of the patient. A sibling is the most likely person to be a good match.


First unrelated bone-marrow transplant: In New York in 1973, a young boy with a genetic immunodeficiency disorder received multiple marrow transplants from a donor identified as a match through a Denmark blood bank. In 1979, the first successful unrelated donor transplant for a patient with leukemia took place at the Hutchinson center.


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Emerging Innovations

Bone-marrow registries develop: In 1979, Laura Graves, a patient with leukemia, was referred to the Hutchinson Center. Laura did not have a matched donor in her family, so Center staff searched through their database of platelet donors in an attempt to find a match. Luckily, one of the laboratory staff turned out to be a good match. Although Laura's transplant was successful, she died two years later of recurrent leukemia. Her family continued to lead efforts to establish a national registry of people volunteering to donate bone marrow. The National Bone Marrow Donor Registry, as it was called initially, was federally funded in 1986, and in 1987 the first donor match was made.


Today: The national registry is called the Be The Match Registry, operated by the National Marrow Donor Program/Be The Match, and includes a network of donor centers, transplant centers and other registries in 41 countries. It is the world’s largest and most diverse donor registry with more than 11 million potential marrow donors and 193,000 cord blood units.


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Social Impact

  Positive Effects Negative Effects
Medical This process gives patients suffering from advanced stages of cancer the ability to go into remission thus giving them an extension of life Bone marrow transplants are physically taxing on both the patients and the donor - a recipient's body may reject the donor marrow
Professional Oncology is an ever-growing field creating many job opportunities in doctoral programs, pharmacology, and nursing Oncology can be an extremely difficult field to work in as not all patients who receive a bone marrow transplant will survive
Ethical Families/individuals have the right to make informed decisions for how they want to treat their disease In certain religions, the use of these life-saving treatments may be forbidden as they believe it's god's will
Legal Protocol to help a patient make an informed decision about their disease and their treatment is very specific There can be errors in protocol due to a lack in the systems that keep track of treatments and other incidents
Economic Treatment of bone marrow transplants has created numerous jobs through doctoral fields, nursing, and other medical personnel This form of treatment is extremely expensive and is not easily available to everyone

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Watch this short video to learn more about what a bone marrow transplant is and about the practices that surround it.

What do you think?

KEEP Would you consider donating bone marrow?
Yes: 0 votes (0%)
No: 1 votes (100%)
Only for a family member: 0 votes (0%)
Total Votes: 1
KEEP Have you ever been affected by a bone marrow transplant?
I have had a bone marrow transplant.: 0 votes (0%)
I know someone who has had a bone marrow transplant.: 0 votes (0%)
I have never had or know anyone who has had a bone marrow transplant.: 2 votes (100%)
Total Votes: 2

Future Directions

The emphasis of current research is primarily directed towards decreasing graft-versus-host-disease and toxicity while also increasing the number of potential donors by developing techniques to cross the traditional HLA histocompatability barriers more successfully.


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