Haploidentical Bone Marrow Transplantation Offers Hope to Patients with Cancer and Blood Disorders

Also known as haplo BMT, the procedure provides an alternative source of stem cells for patients who need a bone marrow transplant but cannot find a related or unrelated donor match.

For cancer patients who need a bone marrow transplant but cannot find a donor match, a procedure called “haploidentical bone marrow transplantation” (haplo BMT) could be a lifesaver.

The University of Arizona Cancer Center Blood and Marrow Transplant Program offers haplo BMT for pediatric and adult patients at Banner – University Medical Center Tucson and Banner Children’s at Diamond Children’s Medical Center.

The procedure provides an alternative source of stem cells for patients who need a bone marrow transplant but cannot find a related or unrelated donor match. This means the donor doesn’t have to be a perfect match—he or she can be a “haplo,” or “half-match.” Thus, a patient’s parent, child or sibling could be a suitable donor.

Emmanuel Katsanis, MD, professor of pediatrics, medicine, pathology and immunobiology, directs the UA Cancer Center’s BMT program. Dr. Katsanis also leads the pediatric cancer research team at the UA Steele Children’s Research Center.

“Haplo transplant is particularly important in Arizona where we have a large population of Hispanics, who have less than a 40 precent chance of finding an unrelated bone marrow match through the national registry,” said Dr. Katsanis.

The procedure is drawing patients from other states as well, with two patients from Las Vegas, Nev., who recently received haplo BMT. One, a mother, received haploidentical bone marrow from her daughter. The other, 24-year-old Armin Garcia Jr., received haploidentical bone marrow from his father. Both patients are doing well.

“For the most part I’m feeling pretty good after the transplant,” said Garcia Jr. “I feel a sense of relief that I won't have to continue chemotherapy to treat the leukemia, just the required maintenance for the transplant. Dr. Katsanis and his team impressed my family and me with the work they’re doing and how they are using new methods to help people like myself. I'm glad Dr. Katsanis and his team were the ones who took care of me.”

Dr. Katsanis explained that an additional advantage with haplo BMT is that family members are eager to donate, are readily available and can avoid the delays that may arise with unrelated donor searches. “Haplo transplant is an excellent alternative for patients who do not have a matched related or unrelated donor,” he said.

However, the procedure has many possible risks, such as the body rejecting the bone marrow, relapse, developing graft versus host disease (GvHD) or a life-threatening infection.

Dr. Katsanis and his research team at the UA Steele Center are studying novel drugs that they believe will lessen GvHD while increasing donor T cells’ ability to attack and kill leukemia cells.

From Armin Jr.’s perspective, his future looks hopeful. “Once my family and I can return to Las Vegas, I plan on looking into how I can get involved with programs like they have here at Banner UMC—either in child life or in social work,” he said. “I also plan on having a good sleep in my own bed.”