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Study credits advances in clinical practice and underscores critical importance of early referrals by physicians and diverse registry of volunteer bone marrow donors

December 09 2012

Survival rates have increased significantly over the past decade among patients with leukemia and other life-threatening diseases who received blood stem cell transplants from donors outside of their families, according to new research .

Results of the recent study – presented at the 54th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Hematology in Atlanta – showed that the one-year survival rate for all unrelated transplant patients improved 12 to 13 percent between 2000 and 2009, and a large percentage of patients maintained improvements through their three-year follow-up.

The retrospective cohort study analyzed outcomes for more than 15,000 unrelated transplant patients and was led by the
National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP) and its research arm, the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research® (CIBMTR). The significant improvements are correlated with reduced treatment-related mortality, and in certain populations, fewer disease relapses.

“Such a remarkable improvement in outcomes demonstrates that unrelated transplantation is a good option for the 70 percent of patients who need a transplant, but don’t have a suitable matching donor within their family,” said Navneet Majhail, M.D., lead author of the study and medical director at the NMDP. “This is good news for these patients, and should reassure physicians about the safety and efficacy of referring a patient for an unrelated transplantation.”

In fact, the study again confirmed that those patients who received transplants earlier in their disease fared far better than those with advanced disease, emphasizing the importance of earlier referrals by physicians.

“The data confirms that physicians working with patients who are fighting a blood cancer should consider unrelated transplantation as a standard therapy,” continued Dr. Majhail. “Multiple factors have likely contributed to this dramatic improvement in survival, including advances in HLA tissue typing, better supportive care, less intensive conditioning regimens, new medications to treat post-transplant complication and a growing, diverse registry of volunteer bone marrow donors.”

The NMDP’s Be The Match Registry® today includes more than 10 million potential bone marrow donors, compared to 3.5 million in 2000.

“The transplantation community has gained enormous knowledge over the past decade, evidenced by the significant improvements in patient survival,” said Jeffrey W. Chell, M.D., chief executive officer of the NMDP. “Unrelated blood stem cell transplantation is no longer a last resort for patients battling life-threatening blood cancers.”