Pediatric stem cell transplants: What to know

When chemotherapy alone isn’t successful in treating blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma in pediatric patients, a stem cell transplant may be an option. They can also help treat some non-cancerous bone marrow diseases, like sickle cell disease, thalassemia, severe aplastic anemia and Kostmann syndrome. To learn about pediatric stem cell transplants and what parents should know, we spoke with Priti Tewari, M.D. What is a stem cell transplant? Stem cells are produced in our bone marrow; they mature to become our red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and the cells of our immune system. Stem cell transplants replace damaged or defective stem cells with healthy cells. They can also help replace a weakened immune system. There are two types: Autologous stem cell transplants use a patient’s own stem cells to help fight cancers like high-risk Hodgkin lymphoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, medulloblastoma and neuroblastoma. These cancers may require high doses of chemotherapy. Autologous transplants use patients’ own healthy stem cells to help with recovery. Allogeneic transplants replace patients’ stem cells with healthy cells from a donor. Are stem cells transplants safe for kids? Stem cell transplants come with risks, but they can be an option for patients as young as only a couple months old. With some non-cancerous diseases like severe combined immunodeficiency, the transplant should take place as soon as possible. Pediatric patients with this condition often have weaker immune systems and are at greater risk for infection. With some inherited disorders, we may watch your child for a few years and allow the organs to mature a little bit before moving ahead with a stem cell transplant....