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Home > Patient Resources > Treatments & Therapy > Stem Cell Transplants

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation

Stem cells produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. In some cases, stem cells in your bone marrow may not be functioning well or need to be destroyed to help treat a disease. If this happens, you will need new stem cells.

It may take about a month for the donor stem cells in the bone marrow to begin to function fully. If the transplant is successful, new bone marrow cells will produce healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

Stem cell transplantation may be done using:

  • Stem cells that were taken from your own bone marrow or blood and stored
  • Stem cells from a donor's bone marrow or blood 
A graphic depicting the location of active bone marrow in an adult on the left side and on the right side a cross section and close up view of active bone marrow
Location of Active Bone Marrow in an Adult
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


This procedure is done if the stem cells in your bone marrow are not functioning or are deficient. This may be caused by:


Complications are rare, but no procedure is completely free of risk. If you are planning to have a stem cell transplant, your doctor will review a list of possible complications, which may include:

  • Infection—until the donor blood-forming cells begin to function
  • Rejection of the donor stem cells
  • Acute graft versus host disease—when the immune cells in the donor's bone marrow attack your tissue

Possible complications for the donor include:

  • Bleeding
  • Infection

Stem cell transplant is usually avoided if you have:

  • Disease of the heart, lungs, liver or kidneys
  • Diabetes

Be sure to discuss the risks with your doctor before the transplant.

What to Expect

Prior to Procedure

The donor will be carefully tested to check for diseases. Both you and the donor will be tested to ensure that your tissues are compatible. In order for the transplant to be successful, certain markers on the blood cells and bone marrow cells must match.

As the recipient, you will be given medication to suppress your immune system. This is to prevent your body from rejecting the donor stem cells. In the weeks prior to the transplant, you may need to have:

This process is called conditioning. It will rid the body of diseased cells and clear the bone marrow cavities for the new marrow.

  • Donor—general anesthesia to block pain and keep the donor asleep through the procedure, given through an IV in the hand or arm
  • Recipient—will not need any anesthesia
Bone Marrow Transplant Procedure

If the stem cells will be from the donor's bone marrow, an area of the donor's hip will be cleaned. A hollow needle and syringe will be used to remove the bone marrow. The doctor will make several small punctures. This is to harvest enough bone marrow for the transplant (1-2 quarts). Lastly, the wounds will be covered with bandages.

If the stem cells will be from the donor's blood, the doctor will stick a needle in the donor's large vein or veins in the arms. A machine will receive blood from the vein. This machine will spin the blood so that the stem cells are concentrated. The rest of the blood will be given back to the donor. The puncture wounds will be covered with bandages. This procedure may require more than one blood donation. The donor may also be required to take pills that cause more stem cells from the bone marrow to go into the blood.

The donated stem cells will be filtered. The cells will be administered into one of your large veins through a small, flexible tube called a catheter.

Immediately After Procedure

The donor will recover quickly. You, the recipient, will need to be placed in isolation. This is to avoid infection until the new stem cells in the bone marrow begin to produce infection-fighting cells.

How Long Will It Take?
  • Donor
    • Bone marrow transplant (BMT)—about 30 minutes
    • Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC)—several hours
  • Recipient—several hours
How Much Will It Hurt?
  • Donor:
    • If the procedure done is a BMT, then the donor will have general anesthesia during the transplant. There may be pain and discomfort after the anesthesia wears off.
    • If the procedure done is a PBSC transplant, then the donor will have pain from the needle sticks.
  • Recipient: There won't be pain while the stem cells are infused. You may have some nausea. This can be treated with medication.
Average Hospital Stay
  • Donor
    • For BMT—overnight
    • For PBSC—several donations, each lasting a couple of hours
  • Recipient—1-2 months

Post-procedure Care

The donor may receive:

  • Pain medicine
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection

While you are recovering at the hospital, you may receive the following care:

  • Medication that keeps your immune system low to decrease the chance of transplant rejection
  • Antibiotics to prevent infection
  • Platelets, plasma and red blood cell transfusions to prevent bleeding and anemia
  • Frequent blood tests to monitor whether the new stem cells in the bone marrow are taking hold or being rejected


After you leave the hospital, contact your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Severe pain
  • New onset of pain more than 24 hours after the transplant
  • Redness, swelling, increasing pain, excessive bleeding, or discharge from the catheter site
  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Rash
  • Diarrhea

In case of an emergency, call for medical help right away.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.