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NIH Media Availability: Similar survival rates found for blood stem cell and bone marrow transplants from unrelated donors

Blood stem cell transplants linked to higher risk of graft-versus-host disease in leukemia patients

Embargoed for Release:
December 10, 2011, 2:00 PM EST

New research shows similar survival rates after two years for high-risk leukemia patients who receive blood stem cell or bone marrow transplants from unrelated donors. The study also found a higher risk of chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) for those who received blood stem cell transplants.

GVHD, a serious and sometimes deadly complication of transplants, occurs when the donor's stem cells recognize the recipient’s own cells as foreign and attack them. This new study, from the Blood and Marrow Transplant Clinical Trials Network, involved 551 patients with high-risk leukemia who had received a transplant using either blood stem cells or bone marrow.   

Study participants who received blood stem cells engrafted more quickly, meaning the transplanted stem cells began producing new cells sooner. These participants also had a lower risk of graft failure than patients in the bone marrow group. However, at two years, those in the blood stem cell group had a higher rate of chronic GVHD (53 percent of participants) versus those who received bone marrow (40 percent).  Participants in both groups had similar survival rates: 52 percent for the blood stem cell group versus 48 percent for the bone marrow transplant group. Researchers will follow patients for an additional year to confirm these results.

Researchers collected the blood stem cells in a manner similar to giving blood, making them easier to obtain than bone marrow cells, which are collected surgically. Previous studies suggested that transplants of  blood stem cells from related donors yielded better results than transplants of bone marrow from related donors in patients with high risk leukemia. This study examined whether blood stem cells from unrelated donors would show similar benefits, which could help expand the pool of candidate donors.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) and the National Cancer Institute, both part of the National Institutes of Health, supported the clinical trial along with the National Marrow Donor Program.

11 a.m., PST; Saturday, Dec. 10, 2011

American Society of Hematology 2011 Meeting, San Diego

Nancy L. DiFronzo, Ph.D., program director, Transfusion Medicine and Cellular Therapy Branch, Division of Blood Diseases and Resources, NHLBI.

CONTACT:   For more information or to schedule an interview with Dr. DiFronzo, contact the NHLBI Office of Communications at 301-496-4236 or


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