The bone marrow transplantation program was started at City of Hope in the summer of 1976 with the hiring of Dr. Karl-Georg Blume. This year’s 40th Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion, or “Celebration of Life,” takes place this Friday (May 6). As City of Hope continues to look at the future of bone marrow transplantation, we are providing information about the beginning of this program.
The first issue of Scope, the City of Hope employee newsletter, for 1976 announced the new program “in bone marrow transplantation [that would] bring new hope to aplastic anemia victims and some leukemia patients.” The article reported on how the program would work and why patients would want to participate. According to Executive Medical Director Rachmiel Levine, through a research environment the program would emphasize:
1) the proper assessment of donor and recipient compatibility, 2) the most advantageous method of whole body radiation, 3) the causes and treatment of graft-versus-host disease and 4) the strange prevalence of certain types of resistant infections.
The article also details some of the elements of the transplant treatment so that the process could be better understood. For example, the article explains that the patient’s “body is irradiated with the linear accelerator, killing all of the patient’s diseased bone marrow,” and then the patient receives the bone marrow donation. The bone marrow “clump[s together] forming new and non-diseased blood-forming marrow.” The number one threat to the patient after their procedure is infection because they do not “have enough natural anti-bodies to fight off diseases.”
In the beginning of the program, transplant patients had to “have a brother or sister with compatible tissue who [was] willing to donate some of his/her bone marrow.” Today City of Hope has a Be the Match office that is operated by the National Marrow Donor Program. Through this program individuals can register to be donors for anyone who is suffering from blood diseases. Furthermore, City of Hope continues to be the only program in the nation that has “achieve[d] 11 consecutive reporting years of ‘over performance’ in one-year overall patient survival.”
The transplant program has continued to grow and change over its 40 years of existence. Dr. Blume emphasized in 1976 that the “team support [at City of Hope] will enable us to perform this vanguard treatment,” and this collaborative spirit continues today.