Our Patients

Rewriting Immunity's Rules: New Strategies Against Cancer

02.17.2009

Albert Yu came through months of treatment that gave him a new immune system. Now, two years after the transplant that fought his cancer, he and his wife, Mary Bechmann Yu, are living a life renewed.

Albert Yu played tennis before he became ill with cancer and, since his bone marrow transplant, he's worked diligently to get back his game.

For months, Yu had to be careful about his activities, especially those that exposed him to other people and possible infection.  Now, his new immune system is strong.

The BMT program hosts an annual reunion for its patients; this group, photographed at this year's gathering, represents some of those who've had their transplants 10 years.

SPECIAL FEATURE

What to know about blood and marrow transplantation

Bone marrow, the liquid center of our bones, produces red blood cells that carry oxygen, platelets that control bleeding and white blood cells, the vital part of our infection-fighting immune system. Inserting donated bone marrow builds a new immune system able to eliminate various kinds of cancers, including leukemia and lymphoma.

Bone marrow can be withdrawn under regional or general anesthesia from the hip bones, but most donations of immune system-generating blood cells can be taken directly from the blood stream.

After donation, a person's marrow is replenished within four to six weeks.

To join the national registry, donors must be between 18 and 60 years old.

The closer the match between donor tissue and patient, the better. Genetics determine tissue type, so the more complex someone's ethnic makeup, the more difficult it is to find a donor.

The non-profit National Marrow Donor Program has been registering and connecting donors with patients since 1987. It now includes 7 million donors and works with a group of almost 500 hospitals, blood centers and laboratories. It is also part of a worldwide network that works cooperatively with service organizations, student groups and corporations to build the registry.

For more information about the registry, visit bethematch.org .

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