What is an Autologous Stem Cell Transplant?

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  • Written By: J.M. Willhite
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 03 January 2020
  • Copyright Protected:
    Conjecture Corporation
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An autologous stem cell transplant is a medical procedure that utilizes the individual’s own stem cells for the transplantation process, which eliminates the risk of cell rejection. Stem cell transplants are used as a treatment option for a variety of diseases, including cancer and anemia. As with any medical procedure, there are risks associated with an autologous stem cell transplant and these should be discussed with a qualified health care provider prior to starting treatment.

Naturally found in bone marrow and the blood, stem cells are utilized as a treatment for conditions which adversely affect or destroy bone marrow. Stem cells serve to replenish damaged cells by adopting the functions of the diseased cells. Recognized for their regenerative capabilities, stem cells may be used to treat conditions such as leukemia and aplastic anemia, which impact the bone marrow's ability to regulate or produce blood cells. An autologous stem cell transplant may also be utilized to replace bone marrow that may be lost due to chemotherapy. Depending on the individual’s condition, the autologous transplant may use either stem cells derived from bone marrow, blood, or a combination of both.


The process of deriving stem cells from the bone marrow involves the insertion of a hollow needle directly into the bone. A small portion of liquid containing stem cells is extracted from the bone. Known as bone marrow aspiration, this form of stem cell collection may involve several extractions to obtain the required amount of sufficient stem cells to be frozen and stored for later use.

Individuals whose stem cells are extracted from their blood may undergo a process used to stimulate the body's production of new stem cells for the purpose of harvesting. A naturally occurring protein, known as growth factor G-CSF, is administered to promote stem cell production. During the extraction process, the individual’s blood is filtered through a machine designed to separate the stem cells from the blood. Once the stems cells are removed, the residual blood is returned to the body. The collected stem cells are subsequently frozen for future transplantation.

The actual transplantation process involves the use of a central venous catheter, which is introduced into the individual’s chest. Passing through a blood bag into the catheter, the stem cells are delivered into the individual’s blood and, ultimately, bone marrow. Once the stem cells reach the bone marrow, new cell production may take up to three weeks to initiate.

Blood tests are routinely conducted to monitor blood platelet, red blood cell, and white blood cell levels after an autologous stem cell transplant. Some individuals may need to undergo multiple transfusions until the transplanted stem cells begin to regenerate and replace the damaged cells. An extensive antibiotic regimen may be required immediately following transplantation to prevent infection, especially for individuals whose immune systems are weakened from recent chemotherapy. Following a transplant, the individual’s immune system may remain weak for up to two years before it begins to recover. Due to the potentially prolonged impairment of the immune system, the individual may need to take antibiotics for several months as a precautionary measure.

Individuals receiving their own stem cells may be at an increased risk for disease relapse due to the potential for contamination by residual, diseased cells collected during the extraction process. The most common risk associated with this procedure is the development of infection following transplantation. Individuals may also experience complications, including excessive bleeding, nausea, and diarrhea. Long-term complications related to an autologous stem cell transplant may include infertility, an increased cancer risk, and cataracts. The heart, lungs, and kidneys may also be adversely affected over the long term.



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