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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Fall 2003 Online

After a bone marrow transplant saved Tom Hickner's life earlier this year, he wanted to say thank you. But he didn't stop at thanking his brother, who served as his donor, or the team at the Cancer Center that cared for him before, during and after the transplant.

Instead, Hickner, who is the County Executive of Michigan's Bay County, approached his state senator Jim Barcia, with an idea: What if the state set aside a day to recognize the life-saving power of bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants, and to raise public awareness about the need for more donors?

On Thursday, April 24, 2003 his idea became reality. That day was officially declared Michigan Bone Marrow and Blood Stem Cell Transplant Awareness Day in a resolution passed by the state Senate and a proclamation issued by Governor Jennifer Granholm. At a press conference that morning at the statehouse in Lansing, Hickner and his brother joined Barcia, state representative Joseph Rivet, state health officials and U-M Cancer Center team members to discuss the importance of transplants in treating many forms of cancer and blood diseases.

Stem cells can be taken from the bone marrow or blood of donors, or the umbilical cords of newborn babies, and used to cure patients with leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia and many other diseases. Once seen as a last-resort treatment with major risks, transplants of marrow and blood stem cells are now often used as a front-line treatment, and have become far more effective and safer.

"Successes like Tom Hickner's are the result of decades of research, remarkable advances in patient care and teamwork among doctors, nurses, and many others," said James Ferrara, M.D., director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at the U-M Cancer Center, who spoke at the press conference. "But as wonderful as that team is, the real heroes of the transplant story are the donors, and we need more of them to help give the gift of life. Just a teaspoon of blood can reveal a person's stem cell type, so they can register as a potential donor for a patient with the same cell type. And while many donations are still drawn from the marrow of the donor's hip bone, some donors can give blood stem cells through a procedure that resembles a regular blood donation.

"The more donors who are in our registries, the better the chances of finding a match for each patient," Ferrara explained. "This is especially true for members of ethnic minorities, where identifying a match can often pose a particular challenge."

Each year an estimated 30,000 Americans, including more than 1,000 Michigan citizens, are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases that can now be treated successfully by transplanting bone marrow or blood stem cells. The cells cure blood-related cancers and other disorders by replacing the patient's diseased blood cell production system with a new one generated by powerful, versatile blood-forming stem cells.

The stem cells can come either from the patients themselves, or from a relative or an unrelated volunteer. The donor's white blood cell type must match the recipient's cell type as closely as possible for the greatest chance of success. Many patients in need of a bone marrow or stem cell transplant wait for months or years until a suitable match is found, but national registries and local donation campaigns are helping to speed the process. To learn more about registering to donate marrow or blood stem cells, or a baby's umbilical cord blood, visit the web site of the National Marrow Donor Program, or call 1-800-627-7692.

In addition to encouraging bone marrow donor registration and donation, the Michigan senate resolution and governor's proclamation both saluted the state's five centers where bone marrow and blood stem cell transplants take place.

The U-M center is the state's oldest, largest and most active bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant program. Its team performed 234 transplants in 2002, and has performed more than 2,000 since the program began in the late 1980s, making it one of the ten most active in the nation.

The U-M program has a special emphasis on research and education. U-M researchers have been granted millions of dollars in funding from government and private sources to study different treatments, and to investigate the basic molecular reasons for complications such as graft-versus-host disease, in which the patient's body is attacked by the transplanted cells. Some U-M discoveries have already been turned into new approaches for delivering stem cells or treating the patient before or after the transplant takes place.

For more information on the U-M bone marrow transplant program, visit their website or call the U-M Cancer AnswerLine™, 800-865-1125. The U-M Center is the state's oldest, largest and most active bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant program.

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This article is part of the Cancer Center's News Archive, and is listed here for historical purposes.

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