Evolving Medical Practice

Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation—50 Years of Evolution and Future Perspectives

Israel Henig and Tsila Zuckerman


Hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is a highly specialized and unique medical procedure. Autologous transplantation allows the administration of high-dose chemotherapy without prolonged bone marrow aplasia. In allogeneic transplantation, donor-derived stem cells provide alloimmunity that enables a graft-versus-tumor effect to eradicate residual disease and prevent relapse. The first allogeneic transplantation was performed by E. Donnall Thomas in 1957. Since then the field has evolved and expanded worldwide. New indications beside acute leukemia and aplastic anemia have been constantly explored and now include congenital disorders of the hematopoietic system, metabolic disorders, and autoimmune disease. The use of matched unrelated donors, umbilical cord blood units, and partially matched related donors has dramatically extended the availability of allogeneic transplantation. Transplant-related mortality has decreased due to improved supportive care, including better strategies to prevent severe infections and with the incorporation of reduced-intensity conditioning protocols that lowered the toxicity and allowed for transplantation in older patients. However, disease relapse and graft-versus-host disease remain the two major causes of mortality with unsatisfactory progress. Intense research aiming to improve adoptive immunotherapy and increase graft-versus-leukemia response while decreasing graft-versus-host response might bring the next breakthrough in allogeneic transplantation. Strategies of graft manipulation, tumor-associated antigen vaccinations, monoclonal antibodies, and adoptive cellular immunotherapy have already proved clinically efficient. In the following years, allogeneic transplantation is likely to become more complex, more individualized, and more efficient.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2014;5(4):e0028