Saving lives through bone marrow transplants

In his latest blog entry Martin Stephens, the Trust's associate medical director for clinical effectiveness, talks about bone marrow transplants.

Bone marrow transplantation

Bone marrow transplantation is one of the specialised services we provide in Southampton.

We share our results with others around the country to see how well we are performing. This month I wanted to tell you about our most recent results.

Bone marrow is the spongy material found inside the outer hard casing of some of our bones. It is a vital part of our body that contains specialist stem cells that produce all the components of our blood - the red cells that carry oxygen, the white cells that fight infection and platelets that prevent bruising and bleeding.

Without this blood cell production, we can’t carry oxygen around our bodies - resulting in tiredness and fatigue (anaemia) - or fight infections.

Sometimes, our bone marrow becomes unhealthy – this can be because of certain cancers or other diseases, leukaemia (white blood cell cancer) is one example.

When this happens, a bone marrow transplant may be needed – this is when the unhealthy tissue is removed and replaced by healthy bone marrow.

The new marrow might be from the patient themselves when they are in remission (we call this autologous transplant) or from another living person (called allogeneic) who could be a brother or sister or even an unrelated donor who is on one of the bone marrow donor registries.

The stem cells can be collected either from the bone marrow or from the blood, both work perfectly well. There are many millions of donors now registered on donor registries around the world and these volunteers have helped save the lives of many people.

In Southampton, our transplant programme started in 2002 and we have completed 300 allogeneic transplants since opening.

During 2012, we treated 119 patients – 48 received allogeneic transplants and 71 autologous.

The patients we care for come from across Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Dorset, parts of Wiltshire and Sussex as well as the Channel Islands - a population of about three and a half million.

Our results

We are very proud of our service. Looking at a recent summary of our results produced by an independent authority, we see that patients are responding and recovering well.

If we take one particular disease – acute myeloid leukaemia (AML), a very serious illness – the most recent report showed that 86% of patients we treated using allogenic marrow transplant responded well and were alive one year after treatment. This is better than the national average which is around 65%.

Though AML is a serious disease, our longer term survival rates are encouraging too. Between 50 and 60 out of 100 patients with AML, who were treated with transplantation, are alive eight years on. Without this treatment, we would expect no more than 30 to survive, perhaps even fewer.

Dr Kim Orchard, bone marrow transplant specialist, said: “These results are excellent and significantly better than the national benchmark we are compared against.

“These fantastic outcomes are testament to the hard work of our transplant team in Southampton. We are really proud to be able to offer patients from across the region a first class service, delivered by an experienced and dedicated team of specialist doctors, nurses and other health care practitioners.

“We aspire to provide a safe environment for our patients who are very vulnerable and have to go through very complicated and frightening treatment in order to regain their health. We are also supported by colleagues around the region with whom we work closely and who have entrusted the care of their patients to us.”

You can find more out about bone marrow transplants at the NHS Choices website.

If you are interested in becoming a donor, information is available from NHS Blood and Transplant.

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