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Research into stem cell and bone marrow transplants

Get information on the latest UK research into bone marrow and stem cell transplants for treating chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

What a transplant is

Stem cell or bone marrow transplant is a way of giving very high dose chemotherapy, sometimes with whole body radiotherapy. The chemotherapy and radiotherapy has a good chance of killing the cancer cells but also kills the stem cells in your bone marrow. Before your high dose chemotherapy, your team collects a donor's stem cells or bone marrow.  

After the treatment you have the cells into a vein through a drip. The cells find their way back to your bone marrow. Then you can make the blood cells you need again.

Only a handful of stem cell or bone marrow transplants are carried out each year for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. Researchers are interested in improving the techniques of bone marrow and stem cell transplants for CLL. 

Half matched stem cell transplants

Doctors can't find a match for about 1 in 3 people who need a transplant. The UK Haplo study is looking at using a half matched transplant in this situation. In a half matched transplant, the donor is at least a 50% match with the person having the stem cell transplant.

Researchers want to find out:

  • how well a new drug works with a half matched stem cell transplant
  • how safe it is
  • about side effects
  • how it affects quality of life

Mini transplant (reduced intensity transplant)

Researchers are interested in using mini transplant for people with CLL. This is also called a reduced intensity conditioning (RIC) transplant. The chemotherapy doses are not as high as with regular transplants in this treatment. So the side effects are not as severe.

Some people with CLL have a reduced intensity stem cell transplant or bone marrow transplant using cells taken from their brother or sister. After the transplant people need to take medicines to damp down the immune system. This helps to stop the donor cells attacking the patient's cells. But it also increases the risk of getting an infection.

Doctors are looking at giving extra T cells, a type of white blood cell after a mini transplant. Researchers hope that giving T cells called CD4 cells might:

  • help boost immunity
  • reduce the risk of infection
  • recognise and kill any leukaemia cells left behind by the graft versus leukaemia (GvL) effect

Cord blood stem cell transplants

Researchers are looking at using stem cells collected from the umbilical cords of newborn babies. The cells are given to people after a mini transplant.

These transplants are for people who don't have a relative who can be their stem cell donor. Doctors hope that the umbilical cord stem cells will cause fewer side effects than adult stem cells.

Information and help