Making stem cell transplants safer and more effective

For cancer patients, the use of hematopoietic stem cell transplants can be a game changer in terms of treatment and recovery. However, most people need to undergo a combination of chemotherapy and radiation before transplants become an option. A new article in Chemical & Engineering News, the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, sheds light on progress toward making stem cell transplants safer and more effective.

Chemotherapy and radiation are used as a prelude to stem cell transplants in a process known as conditioning, writes Associate Editor Ryan Cross. This allows doctors to clear out diseased cells in the body and make room for healthy ones, but conditioning can be very harsh; it also kills healthy cells and can cause significant side effects, making recovery that much harder. Therefore, stem cell transplants are often under-used. Researchers and drug companies are now working to develop new targeted conditioning therapies with fewer side effects, which would allow more patients to safely undergo stem cell treatments.

The most promising approaches include using antibodies to target specific proteins on hematopoietic stem cells in a patient's body and kill those cells. The goal is to make room for new stem cells from the transplant and to avoid the collateral damage that chemotherapy and radiation cause to other cells. Experts believe this targeted conditioning will result in fewer side effects and could be applied to patients with cancer, genetic diseases and autoimmune disorders that want to receive stem cell transplants. Although there is reason for optimism on the basis of early findings, scientists caution that this new method may not fully solve the issues of side effects and immune rejection, and it may not be suitable for all types of cancers. In the meantime, work continues on advancing stem cell therapies, with the goals of better outcomes and fewer complications.

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