What are donor stem cell (allogeneic) transplants?

Donor stem cell (allogeneic) transplants replace bone marrow that is not working properly with healthy stem cells. These are taken from a donor. The donor stem cells give you a new, healthy bone marrow. You will also get your donor’s immune system, which helps your body get rid of any remaining cancer or leukaemia cells.

Your specialist will explain the risks and benefits of having a transplant. You will have conditioning treatment to prepare your body before the transplant. Your donor’s stem cells will then be collected. You will be given the stem cells through a drip and will then wait for new blood cells to grow. When your blood cells have recovered and you are well enough, you can go home.

This treatment is used to treat leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. It may also be used to treat some other blood conditions.

About donor stem cell (allogeneic) transplants

A donor stem cell transplant replaces bone marrow that is no longer working properly with healthy stem cells from your donor.

The donor stem cells make new red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. This gives you a new, healthy bone marrow. The transplant also gives you your donor’s immune system (white blood cells). This helps your body to get rid of any remaining cancer or leukaemia cells.

A donor stem cell transplant can sometimes be used to treat different blood cancers, such as leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. It may also be used to treat some other blood conditions.

Your donor may be a family member or an unrelated donor. Some people may be given stem cells from an umbilical cord.

Donor stem cell transplants are only done in specialised transplant units by staff with specialist experience. Some people may need to travel quite far to their nearest unit. You will usually need to stay in hospital for several weeks. If you have family or a partner who want to stay nearby, your specialist nurse can give you advice about getting financial help.


The stages of a donor stem cell transplant

A donor stem cell transplant is a complex treatment, but it can be divided into six stages.

Stages of a donor stem cell transplant
Stages of a donor stem cell transplant

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Stage 1 – Getting ready for treatment

Your specialist will explain the risks and benefits of having a transplant. If you decide to go ahead, your doctors start looking for a suitable donor. You have tests to check your general health, and are given advice on preparing for the treatment. Possible donors are asked to give a blood sample to check that their cells match yours.

Stage 2 – Conditioning treatment

Chemotherapy drugs, sometimes with radiotherapy and antibody therapy, are given to destroy your immune system and prepare your body to accept the donor cells.

Stage 3 – Collecting your donor’s stem cells

While you are having the conditioning treatment, your donor’s stem cells are collected from their blood or bone marrow.

Stage 4 – Having the transplant

After the conditioning treatment has finished, you are given the donor’s stem cells through a drip (infusion).

Stage 5 – Waiting for your new blood cells to grow

The donor’s stem cells find their way to your bone marrow and start to grow and make healthy new blood cells. Doctors call this engraftment. You usually need lots of medical and nursing support while the stem cells engraft.

Stage 6 – Recovering after your transplant

When your blood cells have recovered and you are well enough, you can go home. Your doctor or nurse will give you advice about the precautions you will need to take to avoid getting an infection. You will have regular appointments at the day unit or outpatient clinic to check your recovery.

Back to Stem cell and bone marrow transplants explained

Stem cell transplants for CML

If the leukaemia has not responded to TK inhibitors, your doctor may suggest that you have a stem cell transplant.

Your feelings

You may experience difficult feelings after your treatment. Talking to those close to you can help.