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Current medical uses

Stem cell transplants (of blood-forming stem cells) became a routine and safe therapeutic treatment in the 1970s. Now the medical literature lists over 80 serious diseases that can be treated with stem cell transplantation. In medical practice, stem cell transplants are most frequently used in conditions affecting blood production and the immune system, along with tumor-related illnesses and certain metabolic disorders.

Depending on the nature of the disease, the transplantation can be autologous (that is, using the patient's own stem cells) or allogeneic (using stem cells from another person). In the latter case, the stem cell donor (the person who gives bone marrow, blood or umbilical blood) can either be a close relative or someone with no genetic relationship to the patient. In allogeneic stem cell transplantation, the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) structure of the donor and the recipient (that is, the patient who receives the stem cells, or in whom the donor cells are implanted) must be compatible, with variations only in one or two subtypes permissible. In only 30-40% of cases is there an available donor who is suitable from the aspect of HLA.

There are several sources of stem cells for transplantation. Among these are bone barrow, circulating (peripheral) blood and umbilical blood. The surgical intervention to harvest bone marrow is major compared to that for peripheral blood, and it requires a comparatively lengthy period of preliminary drug treatment. Stem cells can be harvested from umbilical blood simply and without risk, and can be used in the same way as bone marrow stem cells, as well as being suitable for long-term storage when deep frozen.

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