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Autologous transplantation is a form of stem cell transplant. This procedure occurs when a patient receives stem cells from his or her own body. The process is akin to an advanced blood transfusion, and it is most helpful for patients with bone marrow deficiency. Skin grafts and blood donations are other potential types of autologous transplants.
Stem cells are undifferentiated cell types, meaning that they have not yet formed into any specific type of cell like blood cells or brain cells. In adults, the marrow found in bones typically contains stem cells. Most bone marrow stem cells transform into either red or white blood cells.
For transplant procedures, medical professionals place stem cells in certain parts of the body in an attempt to restore lost or damaged cells and tissues. For example, if a disorder hinders the body’s ability to produce blood cells, then stem cells may be injected in the hopes that they will become healthy blood cells.
Like most transplant procedures, stem cell materials derive from a donor. Transplants generally involve the transfer of body cells, tissues, or organs from one person to another. Donors may be living or deceased in transplant cases, although live donors are typical for stem cell transplants.
Autologous transplantation is unique in that the patient can actually donate to himself or herself. Many professionals prefer this approach because the body will likely not reject its own cells. Concerns about donor compatibility, allergies, and infections are also less of issues with autotransplantation.
Many conditions can benefit from autologous transplantation. Most medical cases involve disorders that directly damage bone marrow. These may include leukemia, lymphoma, and aplastic anemia. Autologous transplantation can also help restore cells destroyed from cancer therapies. More experimental treatments attempt improvements on conditions ranging from tumor masses to diabetes.
Some patients are better suited for autologous transplants. Overall, the patient should be in relatively good health. An individual plagued with diseases or an older individual could face complications in this medical procedure that rests entirely on the health of the patient's cells.
Before an autologous transplant, medical professionals gather the stem cells used from blood. The physician might give the patient a substance known as growth factor G-CSF that induces stem cell growth in the blood. Following extraction from veins, the blood is then processed in a machine that can take out the stem cells. This machine can also send the processed blood back into the patient. For children, stem cells for autologous transplantation may occasionally be drawn from bone marrow.
The process for the actual autologous transplantation is relatively simplistic. First, individuals with cancer may require chemotherapy or another treatment that will destroy cancerous cells so that the stem cells may assume their place. For the procedure, a long tube called a catheter is placed in the central vein of the chest. A blood bag containing stem cells is attached to the catheter.
Once the cells are injected, they move into the blood and eventually to the bone marrow. After an autologous transplant, new cell production ideally occurs in about three weeks. Since individuals are highly vulnerable after a transplant, additional transfusions and antibiotic treatments may be needed.
Although the term primarily references stem cell transplants, autologous transplantation may describe other procedures where a patient provides his or her own transplant material. Some individuals, for example, may store blood in blood banks for future use. For burn victims and similar patient cases, procedures where skin is transplanted from one part of a person's body to another is sometimes known as an autologous graft.