Autologous stem cell transplant

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on April 21, 2022.

In an autologous transplant, stem cells are collected from the patient themselves, harvested, frozen and stored, then infused back into the patient after intensive therapy. An autologous stem cell transplant is different from an allogeneic stem cell transplant, which uses stem cells from a matching donor.

Which cancers are treated with autologous stem cell transplant?

The patient's care team may recommend an autologous stem cell transplant for conditions including:

How are stem cells harvested for an autologous transplant?

The care team typically harvests stem cells from the patient’s bloodstream (peripheral blood stem cells). Through a mobilization process, the stem cells are brought from the bone marrow into the peripheral bloodstream, where the collection process begins.

The blood is separated using an apheresis machine. This process takes a few hours and is repeated until the appropriate amount of stem cells is collected. Once harvested, the stem cells are frozen until it’s time to transplant.

Conditioning the body for autologous transplant

The care team will administer high doses of chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy, to destroy the remaining cancer cells and kill blood-producing cells left in the patient's bone marrow. The conditioning process, which typically takes one to two weeks, makes the patient's immune system very vulnerable. That's why it's important that he or she is careful to avoid exposure to any germs or bacteria.

The transplant typically occurs about two days after the conditioning process is complete.

The autologous stem cell transplant procedure

The frozen stem cells are thawed and then re-infused into the bloodstream, similar to a blood transfusion. The procedure typically takes about an hour. After entering the bloodstream, the stem cells travel to the bone marrow and begin to produce new blood cells in a process called engraftment.

Autologous stem cell transplant recovery

The hematology oncology team will collaborate to reduce the risk of complications and address the patient's needs throughout the stem cell transplant process.

Because it takes to build the immune system back up after a transplant, the patient's care team will take careful measures after the stem cell transplant. In the weeks afterward, his or her blood counts will be checked frequently and blood transfusions may be necessary to prevent or treat infections and/or bleeding issues.

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