Information for Patients

Bone Marrow Transplantation

What is bone marrow?

Bone marrow is the soft, spongy part in the centre of bones where blood cells are produced. The bone marrow contains stem cells, which develop into the mature cells in our blood. Stem cells, which are used for transplant, are found in bone marrow, blood or umbilical cord blood.

What is a bone marrow transplant?

A bone marrow transplant is a treatment option for some people who have life-threatening blood or immune system diseases, such as leukaemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma. The procedure replaces blood stem cells in people whose bone marrow has been destroyed by large doses of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

A bone marrow transplant is a generic term that covers all types of transplants that use stem cells: a blood stem cell transplant, an umbilical cord blood transplant and a bone marrow transplant.

There are different types of bone marrow transplants:

  • autologous transplant: where a patient’s own stem cells are used for the transplant
  • allogeneic transplant: where another person donates stem cells for the transplant. The donor can be related (family) or unrelated (volunteer adult donors or cord blood).

What conditions are treated by a bone marrow transplant?

If you are diagnosed with either leukaemia, certain immune system and/ or genetic disorders, a bone marrow transplant may be a treatment option.

This is a list of conditions/diseases for which bone marrow transplantation is an acceptable treatment option:

  • chronic myeloid leukaemia
  • chronic lymphocytic leukaemia
  • acute leukaemia
  • myelodysplasia
  • myeloproliferative disease
  • multiple myeloma
  • Hodgkin lymphoma (disease)
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • lymphoproliferative disorders
  • severe aplastic anaemia
  • paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria
  • immunodeficiency diseases
  • Fanconi’s anaemia
  • inherited metabolic disorders
  • marrow failure syndromes of restricted lineage
  • pure red cell aplasia
  • Blackfan Diamond syndrome
  • congenital dyserythropoietic anaemia
  • severe inherited platelet function disorder
  • thalassaemia major
  • sickle cell disease
  • osteopetrosis

Cord blood

There are three public cord blood banks in Australia: Sydney Cord Blood Bank BMDI Cord Blood Bank and Queensland Cord Blood Bank at the Mater. They work together through a collaboration known as AusCord.

Cord blood is donated immediately following the birth of a healthy baby, and once cryopreserved can be stored for decades until required. When undertaking a search on behalf of a patient, ABMDR can access the stored cord blood inventory of AusCord banks, as well as cord blood banks around the world.

AusCord complies with international standards for unrelated haematopoietic stem cell donor registries. AusCord banks are licensed by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to collect, process and store cord blood units. The banks are also accredited under the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT), an international organisation that promotes the highest quality standards and laboratory practices for cord blood banks. Maintenance of the TGA licence and FACT accreditation requires consistently good performance at regular audits.

AusCord banks also support research. Information, blood and/or DNA held by the banks may be used in ethically approved research or quality assurance projects if the mother has given consent. AusCord cord blood banks do not participate in any cloning research projects.

Privacy and confidentiality

ABMDR manages patient information in accordance with all applicable privacy laws. Patient information is de-identified in the search process, and is not shared with donors, the medical team responsible for the donation, or cord blood banks. Similarly, donor information is kept strictly confidential from patients and their medical team.

If you want to write a letter or a card to your donor, we can pass it on. We ask that you keep any correspondence anonymous, which means no names, addresses, birth dates, or where you received your transplant. If it has been two years and there has been an exchange of letters and cards between you and your donor, contact details can be exchanged if you both agree. This will allow you to get in touch directly. Please note, however, that if your donor is from overseas, not all registries allow contact between donors and recipients.