The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center began helping New Mexicans with blood disorders a little more than one year ago. Since then, more than 30 New Mexicans have received treatment. Program Director Matthew Fero, MD, FACP, started the program after moving to New Mexico from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Wash.
The UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center program is the state’s only bone marrow transplant program. It includes a nurse manager, nurse coordinator, a social worker, a pharmacist, infusion nurses, and an inpatient team. “Bone marrow transplantation needs a multidisciplinary team because of the complexity in coordinating care,” says Fero. The team’s Nurse Manager, Maria Limanovich, says the team follows each person from the beginning of bone marrow transplant treatment through completion. According to Fero, the program is growing and is in the process of hiring two more doctors and an advanced practice provider.
The UNM Bone Marrow Transplant program offers treatment choices for people with lymphoma and myeloma and will expand to help people with other blood disorders. Almost 1,000 New Mexicans receive a blood cancer diagnosis each year, according to American Cancer Society estimates.
Fero and his team currently perform autologous transplants. “Autologous bone marrow transplantation is the process of taking bone marrow stem cells out of a patient and then infusing them back in after the patient receives high dose therapy,” says Fero. “This allows us to use treatments that would otherwise harm the bone marrow.”
Bone marrow, the soft reddish material that fills the inside of our bones, produces millions of new blood cells each second. These millions of cells come from a tiny number of bone marrow stem cells. These stem cells are special because they can mature into all of the different types of cells in the blood. These are the cells doctors collect for a transplant.
“Because bone marrow is a liquid organ,” Fero says, “it can pass through an IV [intravenous] line.” Doctors rarely need to take stem cells directly out of the bone, Fero explains. They use drugs to coax bone marrow stem cells into the bloodstream. From there, the blood travels through an IV line into an apheresis machine that sorts the stem cells out and returns the rest of the blood. The experience is like donating blood at a blood bank.
Once stem cells are safely stored out of the bloodstream, doctors use high-dose chemotherapy to eradicate the remaining cancer. When chemotherapy is out of their system, the patients’ stem cells are reinfused. The reinfusion process is similar to a blood transfusion. Once reinfused, stem cells find their way back to bone marrow where they begin to grow and make new blood cells.
Autologous bone marrow transplants are standard treatments for lymphoma and myeloma. This treatment works very well against aggressive lymphomas. “In this case the goal is to cure the disease,” says Fero. Autologous bone marrow transplants extend the lives of people with myeloma and gives them a better quality of life, too. Fero says, “We’re offering another option for their treatment.”
Matthew Fero, MD, FACP, is a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology, at the UNM School of Medicine. He serves as Director of the Bone Marrow Stem Cell Program at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Fero received his medical degree from the University of California, Irvine, and completed his residency in Internal Medicine at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine. He completed a medical fellowship in Medical Oncology at University of Washington and a research fellowship at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. He is a member of the American Society of Hematology and the American Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, and is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. His research focuses on the molecular bases of cancer and translating new technologies into improved cancer diagnostics and novel therapies.
The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is the Official Cancer Center of New Mexico and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in a 500-mile radius. Its 125 board-certified oncology specialty physicians include cancer surgeons in every specialty (abdominal, thoracic, bone and soft tissue, neurosurgery, genitourinary, gynecology, and head and neck cancers), adult and pediatric hematologists/medical oncologists, gynecologic oncologists, and radiation oncologists. They, along with more than 500 other cancer healthcare professionals (nurses, pharmacists, nutritionists, navigators, psychologists and social workers), provided cancer care for nearly 60 percent of the adults and children in New Mexico affected by cancer. They treated 11,249 patients in 84,875 ambulatory clinic visits in addition to in-patient hospitalizations at UNM Hospital. These patients came from every county in the State. More than 12 percent of these patients participated in cancer clinical trials testing new cancer treatments and 35 percent of patients participated in other clinical research studies, including tests of novel cancer prevention strategies and cancer genome sequencing. The 130 cancer research scientists affiliated with the UNMCCC were awarded almost $60 million in federal and private grants and contracts for cancer research projects and published 301 high quality publications. Promoting economic development, they filed more than 30 new patents in FY16, and since 2010, have launched 11 new biotechnology start-up companies. Scientists associated with the UNMCCC Cancer Control & Disparities have conducted more than 60 statewide community-based cancer education, prevention, screening, and behavioral intervention studies involving more than 10,000 New Mexicans. Finally, the physicians, scientists and staff have provided education and training experiences to more than 230 high school, undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellowship students in cancer research and cancer health care delivery. Learn more at www.cancer.unm.edu.
Dorothy Hornbeck, JKPR, 505-340-5929, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michele Sequeira, UNM Cancer Center, 505-925-0486, email@example.com