What is a Stem Cell? & Transplant Types

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What is a Stem Cell?

Stem cells live throughout your body. They create all the types of cells your body needs.

We find blood-forming or hematopoietic stem cells in three places:

  • Bone marrow
  • Blood 
  • Umbilical cords

The stem cells living in your bone marrow create blood: red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.

Sometimes, stem cells leave the bone marrow and end up in your bloodstream, called peripheral blood stem cells.

Where to Find Healthy Stem Cells

The kind of stem cell transplant you have depends on the source of the stem cells:

  • A bone marrow transplant (BMT) harvests stem cells from donor bone marrow
  • A peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSC) collects stem cells from the bloodstream
  • An umbilical cord blood transplant (UCBT) takes stem cells from an umbilical cord

Which type of stem cell transplant will you have? That depends on your physical condition. What type of donor you have also plays a role. You and your team can figure out the best choice for you together.

What a Stem Cell Transplant Does

A  donor or allogeneic stem cell transplant replaces diseased cells with healthy ones. It may take several weeks.for the donor stem cells in the bone marrow to begin to function fully. After a successful stem cell transplant, stem cells start creating healthy blood cells again. 

We often use your own stem cells for a transplant after high-dose chemotherapy. This autologous transplant restores blood-forming cells.

Types of Stem Cell Transplant

The type of stem cell donor determines the type of transplant. The two main types of stem cell transplants include:

  • Autologous
  • Allogeneic

Autologous Transplant

This procedure uses stem cells from your own body, usually from your blood. 

We wait until after high-dose chemotherapy to put the stem cells back into your body. The stem cells then restore your bone marrow and blood cells.

Allogeneic Transplant

A donor provides the stem cells for this type of transplant. Donors can be related or unrelated. Either way, we have to perform tests to make sure the donor's immune system is compatible with yours.

Find out about stem cell donation.