Stem Cell Transplant Process

Unless our team is able to use your blood-forming stem cells, you need a donor for a transplant. The donor may be a relative or stranger. Sometimes stem cells can also come from donated umbilical cord blood. Your transplant team works with you and your family to find the best match.

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing

Your human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type plays a key role in finding the right donor match. Our team uses specialized equipment in our advanced Transplant Immunology Lab to determine HLA types.

HLA typing is important because:

  • HLA is a protein, or marker, found on the surface of white blood cells.
  • These markers tell your immune system which cells are yours and which ones are foreign and should be attacked.
  • Your body is less likely to fight or reject stem cells that come from a donor whose HLA type most closely matches your own.

Waiting for a stem cell transplant from blood or bone marrow

Some patients are able to use their own stem cells, or have a sibling who is a good HLA match. They are able to receive a transplant as soon as they complete treatments to destroy unhealthy cells.

If you do not have someone who is a good match, your transplant team will search the donor registry maintained by the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). This organization maintains a nationwide list of potential stem cell donors and donated umbilical cord blood.

Factors affecting your stem cell transplant wait

The length of your wait for a stem cell transplant depends on a number of factors, including your:

  • Health
  • HLA type
  • Age
  • Race
  • Ethnicity

Receiving a stem cell transplant

Once your stem cells are collected or a donor is found, a transplant involves 3 phases:

Stem cell transplant conditioning (pre-transplant)

We take certain steps before your stem cell transplant:

  • A few days before your transplant, you check into the hospital and have a long tube called a catheter surgically inserted into a large vein in your chest.
    • You are awake, but relaxed with sedatives, during this procedure.
    • Your transplant team uses this central line for treatments and the transplant.
    • This central line remains in place for at least 6 months.
  • During the first phase, known as conditioning, you receive high doses of chemotherapy through the central line. You may also receive radiation. These treatments destroy damaged or cancerous cells and prepare your body to accept the transplanted stem cells.

Stem cell transplant procedure

Stem transplants are painless and relatively quick procedures:

  • A stem cell transplant is similar to getting a blood transfusion. You are awake for the procedure and receive the transplant through your central line.

Stem cell transplant recovery

We ask all our stem cell patients to follow Henry Ford recovery recommendations:

  • After the transplant, you recover in our specialized Transplant Recovery Unit. This unit has private rooms with filtered air to protect against infection.
  • You receive daily blood tests while in the hospital. You may need blood transfusions until the donor stem cells start making new blood cells. This process is known as engrafting. If you received your own stem cells, you may be given medications to stimulate stem cell production.
  • While in the hospital, you meet with one of our knowledgeable transplant pharmacists and start taking transplant medications. If you received donor cells, you take immunosuppressants to keep your body from rejecting the donated stem cells. You may eventually be able to stop taking these anti-rejection medications.
  • During your hospital stay, our dedicated stem cell transplant team will teach you and your caregivers how to care for your central line after you leave the hospital. Proper care is important to prevent infection.
  • After your discharge, you need to make daily or weekly visits to Henry Ford for follow-up tests and monitoring. These visits may continue for the first 100 days after discharge or until your doctor recommends otherwise.
  • It may take 6 to 12 months for your immune functions and blood cell levels to return to normal. During this time, it is important to follow your doctor’s orders about medications, checkups and recovery.

Resources for transplant patients and caregivers

Our attentive staff at Guest Services can help you and your loved ones with travel and lodging arrangements, as well as provide other support. Learn more about our resources.

Take the next step

Speak with a Transplant Institute specialist.