What is an autologous stem cell transplant?

An autologous stem cell transplant is the infusion of healthy stem cells into your child's body. Stem cells develop in the bone marrow and are the most immature blood cells circulating in your blood stream. As stem cells mature, they change into the different types of blood cells including white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets and are released into the blood stream by a process called "mobilization."

Other procedures and treatments are necessary before and after the stem cell transplant. Stem cells in the blood stream are collected through a procedure called "harvesting." During this procedure, a machine is connected to the child's central venous catheter. This catheter is placed surgically prior to having stem cells collected. The machine removes the blood, filters out the stem cells so they can be saved, and then gives the child back the remaining blood. The stem cells are processed and frozen so they can be given back to the child later.

The process of preparing for a stem cell transplant, called "conditioning," involves high doses of chemotherapy and possibly radiation to destroy cancer cells and suppress the immune system so your child's body doesn't reject the healthy, transplanted stem cells. This process also destroys the bone marrow.

The harvested stem cells are given back as a transfusion to replace the depleted bone marrow. The stem cells migrate to the bone marrow; begin producing stem cells that grow into the various types of blood cells and allow the bone marrow to recover from the high doses of chemotherapy.

Research studies have shown that stem cell transplantation can be an effective treatment in children with certain high-risk tumors such as high-risk solid tumors or recurrent solid tumors. This procedure allows for higher than usual doses of chemotherapy to be given with the goal of destroying the cancer cells.