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Celebrating a New Start from Stem Cells

It’s easy to grasp the medical miracle of the organ transplant, where a kidney or heart is passed from one person to another to restore the life of the recipient. Stem cell transplants are a little more abstract in concept, with the life-saving exchange happening via blood donation and infusion rather than the drama of dual surgeries. But the effects upon patients who receive a stem cell transplant are no less transformative, providing them with a new future free from leukemia, myeloma and other bone marrow cancers and the health issues and unpleasant treatments those conditions entail.

As such, it made sense to organize an opportunity for stem cell transplant patients to share that experience with each other, just as recipients of other types of transplants have their own events. The 2nd annual Celebration of Life – a reunion of patients, donors, family members and medical staff – was held this past weekend at the University of Chicago Medical Center, drawing more than 200 people to hear and share stories of the procedure’s success. Held in the atrium of the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine, a beautiful spring day appropriately bathed the attendees in sunlight as they talked about the new beginning offered by the treatment.

While patients and their families mingled at the event, we pulled some aside to hear the stories of life before and after stem cell transplant. In the video below, you can view several of those stories, from patients who had their transplant in recent months to patients who received a stem cell transplant more than 15 years ago. We also heard from Koen van Besien, director of the stem cell transplant program at the Medical Center, about why he is “humbled” to see so many patients living healthy lives after the procedure.

A common thread throughout the event was the ever-widening window for people to be eligible for stem cell transplant. By coincidence, van Besien and Lucy Godley have a commentary in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, describing the advances that have allowed doctors to treat more patients with stem cell transplant. For people who are unable to receive autologous transplants from their own blood, the search for compatible donors has been a major obstacle for the procedure. But as the JAMA commentary describes, innovation in the immunological testing of potential donors, preservation of umbilical cord blood, and drugs that enable the use of partially-matched donors are giving more and more patients access to the treatment. As Andrew Artz says in the video below, the hope is that the procedure will become so widely available that future reunions will need to take place in Soldier Field.

For more on stem cell transplants, see our Dr. FAQ videos with Dr. Godley posted last week.

About Rob Mitchum (514 Articles)
Rob Mitchum is communications manager at the Computation Institute, a joint initiative between The University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory.
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