Revolutionary Bone Marrow Transplantation Procedure Inaugurated At Yale Cancer Center

December 05, 1997

(NEW HAVEN) -- A new form of bone marrow and stem cell transplantation between partially-mismatched, related donors -- Haplotype MisMatch Transplants -- will soon be available at the Yale Cancer Center. The revolutionary technique, which allows transplants between parents, siblings or children, is opening up lifesaving transplant opportunities to many more patients than traditional transplants among unrelated donors.

Joseph McGuirk, M.D., whose area of expertise is Haplotype MisMatch Transplants, has been named the new assistant director for Allogeneic Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplantation at the Cancer Center. He came to Yale from the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, where he worked closely with the world's foremost expert in the field, Jeanne Hensely-Downey, M.D.

Allogeneic transplants are those in which the bone marrow or stems cells come from a donor other than the patient. The procedure is used commonly in treating leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other diseases of the bone marrow-forming cells. While the best source for a transplant is a brother or sister whose human leukocyte antigens (HLA) are a perfect match, only about 30 percent of all patients are fortunate enough to have an identical match.

Traditionally, the remaining 70 percent of patients have turned to the unrelated donor program, a system in which bone marrow recipients are matched with donors from throughout the world. Although a viable option for many patients, the program has two major drawbacks. First, it usually takes a several month period to locate a suitable donor and retrieve the bone marrow. "Most leukemia patients can't wait that long," said McGuirk. Secondly, minorities are very underrepresented in the unrelated donor pool, resulting in a lower probability of finding a match among those populations.

Haplotype MisMatch, or partially mismatched, donor-related bone marrow transplants, may help overcome those obstacles. "By using family members whose HLAs are partially mismatched, there are more readily available donors," noted McGuirk. "This opens up bone marrow transplantation to almost everyone with a living parent, sibling or child."

More than 350 such transplants have been done in the past four years with amazing results. "High risk patients with multiple relapsed leukemia have demonstrated that they can be cured," said McGuirk. "They can do well long-term."

The Yale Cancer Center is one of only a handful of places in the country prepared to perform the procedure; the first is expected to take place here within six months. McGuirk sees the program as the beginning of something big: "Partially mismatched, donor related transplantation is now expanding very quickly into the world community," he said. "With Yale's strong immunology department as a backdrop, we are in a position to become a world leader in this field. We can now offer something special to patients across the country."

Albert Deissroth, M.D. associate director for clinical research at the Cancer Center hailed the recruitment of McGuirk as a tremendous plus for the entire Allogeneic Transplant Program. "This is a very exciting and rapidly expanding area of bone marrow transplantation," he said. "It offers new opportunities to patients who previously had nowhere else to turn."

The Yale Cancer Center is one of 31 Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the country designated by the National Cancer Institute and the only one in Southern New England. Bringing together the resources of Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Yale University School of Medicine, its mission encompasses patient care, research, cancer prevention and control, community outreach and education. The Cancer Information Service, a Yale Cancer Center program funded by the National Cancer Institute, provides up-to-date information on cancer prevention, detection and treatment. Trained cancer information specialists are available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

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Yale Cancer Center

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