The Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Center at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center offers treatment choices for people with lymphoma and myeloma. Almost 1,000 New Mexicans receive a blood cancer diagnosis each year, according to American Cancer Society estimates.
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.
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.
Autologous bone marrow transplants are standard treatments for lymphoma and myeloma.
— Matthew Fero, MD, FACP
Bone Marrow Stem Cell Program Director
“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 process is similar to blood transfusion. Stem cells find their way back to bone marrow where they begin to grow and make new blood cells.