Bone marrow, a spongy tissue found inside our bones, is responsible for producing healthy blood cells. Within the bone marrow, there are white blood cells (leukocytes), red blood cells (erythrocytes), and platelets (thrombocytes). The white blood cells help our body’s immune system fight off bacteria, infection and sickness. Red blood cells help transport oxygen to the body, and platelets help our blood be able to clot.
Bone marrow contains two types of stem cells: hematopoietic, which produce our blood cells; and stromal (connective tissue cells), which produce fat, cartilage, and bone. There are two types of bone marrow: red marrow (also known as myeloid tissue) and yellow marrow.
Once a person reaches adulthood and has fully grown and developed, the blood cells do not live for a long time inside our bodies. For this reason, the bone marrow continuously produces all three types of blood cells to keep us healthy. These blood cells start off immaturely, and over time, they start to develop and mature into “specialized” cells called stem cells.
As mentioned before, our immune system protects our body from disease. It essentially kills unwanted microorganisms such as bacteria and viruses that may want to invade our bodies. Small glands called lymph nodes are scattered throughout the body. Inside our bone marrow lymphocytes are made, and enter our lymph nodes.
These lymphocytes then travel between each lymph node through channels called lymphatics. In the lymphatic system, the lymphatic channels meet at large ducts that empty into blood vessels. Lymphocytes are able to enter the blood through these ducts.
There are three major types of lymphocytes which play an important part of the immune system: B-lymphocytes (B-cells), T-lymphocytes (T-cells), and natural killer (NK) cells. These cells have proteins called antibodies, which attach onto the surface of make Y or T shaped microbes. Each antibody sticks to molecules called antigens, which then bind together to attack and fight off an infection.
When someone becomes sick with a disease such as cancer, their blood cell count (especially the white blood cells) is extremely low, causing a deficiency called leukopenia. Therefore, due to this deficiency of white blood cells, the body becomes too weak to fight off infection. The cancer comes in and disrupts the bone marrows job of producing healthy cells. In people diagnosed with blood cancers such as leukemia, cancer grows in the bone marrow and doesn’t allow normal blood cells to develop, thus, producing abnormal cancerous ones.
Stem cells have the potential to treat a wide range of diseases. For people who are in need of cancer treatment, stem cell therapy has now become an option in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiation.
In the past, patients who needed a stem cell transplant received what is called a bone marrow transplant from a donor, where stem cells were collected from the match’s bone marrow. Today, stem cells are usually collected directly from a patient’s blood, instead of their bone marrow. For this reason, treatment is now commonly referred to as a stem cell transplant, or stem cell therapy.
There are different types of stem cell treatments for different types of cancer. Your doctor will recommend an AUTO or ALLO transplant based mostly on the disease you have (AUTO means your own, while ALLO means another, or a donor). Other factors include the health of your bone marrow, your age, and your overall general health. For example, if you have blood cancer, you will probably have an ALLO transplant. In this situation, doctors do not recommend using your own stem cells.
Choosing a transplant is complicated. You will need help from a doctor who specializes in transplants. At the center, you talk with a transplant specialist and have an examination and tests. During treatment, your doctor puts a thin tube called a transplant catheter in your vein. The tube stays in until after the transplant. They will collect stem cells through this tube and give chemotherapy and other medications through the tube in conjunction.
The ultimate goal during stem cell therapy, is to raise your number of white blood cells, as leukocytes help your body fight infections. The cancerous cells will be ultimately killed, with the hope that the patient will go into remission over time.
For more information about how stem cell therapy can help cancer patients, please call Tarpon Orthopedics at (972) 596-1059, or request an appointment online today.