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Different types of stem cell transplant

Chantel Ratcliffe

There are two main types of stem cell transplant. They are different because the stem cells you receive are collected from different sources.

  • If you have an autologous (or autograft) transplant, you will receive your own stem cells that were collected before your treatment started.
  • If you have an allogeneic (or allograft) transplant, you will receive your stem cells from somebody else. This might be someone you know, such as a sibling or family member, or it could be someone who has signed up to the Anthony Nolan register. 

The type of transplant you have will depend on the type of blood cancer or blood disorder you have, your age and general health. The availability of a suitable matched donor is also a factor.

More information on the different types of allogeneic transplants, as well as autologous transplants, is available below:

Autologous transplants

An autologous stem cell transplant allows doctors to give you very high doses of chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy to treat your condition – you might hear this called high dose therapy.

This therapy removes the abnormal cells that cause your condition but it also causes damage to your bone marrow and immune system. The transfusion of your own stem cells back into your blood allows your immune system to re-build itself over time. The stem cells move back into your bone marrow where they start making new blood cells, which aids your recovery.

After your transplant you will not develop graft vs host disease (GvHD) because you receive your own stem cells, so they won’t react to the other cells in your body. However, you are likely to still experience some short-term side effects and you will be at risk of developing infections as your body recovers from the treatment.

An autologous transplant could be a treatment option for you if:

  • You have blood cancer, such as myeloma or lymphoma.
  • Other treatments, such as chemotherapy, have not worked.
  • You have a certain type of cancer that will respond well to high dose chemotherapy, such as germ cell tumours.
  • You have a blood disorder that affects your immune system, such as severe autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis or Crohn’s disease. However, this is only in rare cases when other treatment options haven’t worked.

You can download our factsheet (PDF 60KB) on autologous transplants for more detailed information.

I was scared it would be painful, so I was surprised when the consultant said it was effectively going to be a blood transfusion. When you think of it, it's weird, but I felt confident and reassured when they explained it!

Rose had an autologous transplant to treat her Hodgkin lymphoma in 2014. You can read her story here.

Sibling transplants

Your siblings are the people most likely to be a match for you. This is because they have the same parents as you, so there’s a 25% chance of them having your tissue type. If you have any brothers or sisters, your hospital will test them before anyone else.

Having a sibling transplant can bring up lots of different emotions for everyone involved. Make sure you speak to your transplant team about any concerns you or your family have.

Our Donating to your relative page has more information for siblings and other relatives who are preparing to donate their own stem cells.

You can also download our factsheet (PDF 60KB) on sibling transplants for more detailed information.

I didn't give it a second thought. When they told me it could be a potentially curative option for my brother I said: 'Let's do it.' For me it didn't feel like there was an option. My brother needed me so of course I was going to do it, no matter what it entailed.

George donated stem cells to his brother Will in 2012

Speaking to other people, I recognise how lucky I am to have had one donor and for it to be a 10/10 match. If it wasn't for George, I would have desperately needed a stranger's help. It could have been a completely different story - I was just lucky.

Will received stem cells from his brother George to treat ALL in 2012. You can read their story here.

Matched unrelated donor (MUD) transplants

If you don’t have the option of a sibling match, and your transplant centre feels that it’s a suitable option, you could be given an MUD transplant. This is when your new stem cells come from a stranger whose tissue type matches your own.  

Your transplant team, most likely a transplant co-ordinator, will get in touch with Anthony Nolan for you. We’ll search for a match, checking all the registered donors in the UK, and we will also look for donors available internationally.

You can find out more about how we search for unrelated donors here.

Our factsheet (PDF 60KB) on MUD transplants also provides more detailed information.

Anthony Nolan found the perfect match for me, and that is probably why I am doing so well now. People who look at me now don't even realise that I was ever sick, which is a great feeling.

Amanda received stem cells from an unrelated donor to treat her AML. You can read her story here.

Cord blood transplants

If a sibling or unrelated donor is not available, you could be offered either a cord blood or haploidentical transplant instead.  

Cord blood, rich in stem cells, can be collected once a baby and the placenta have been safely delivered by the mother. It’s collected from the umbilical cord once it has been cut. The procedure is completely safe for both mother and baby. The blood is then frozen and stored in a cord bank until needed.

Cord blood stem cells don’t need to be as well matched with your tissue type compared to other sources of stem cells. This is because they are not as mature as blood stem cells, which means it can be easier to find a suitable cord match.

You can download our factsheet (PDF 60KB) on cord blood transplants for more detailed information.

I saw it as a project. The doctor told me what was going to happen, and it wasn't that I wasn't prepared for the worst, but I decided to do my best. If you can have a focused mind, the other things you endure are easier to manage.

Rayhan received his stem cells from a cord blood donation in 2016. You can read his story here.

Haploidentical transplants

A haploidentical transplant uses stem cells from a family member whose tissue type or HLA is half matched to yours. Parents are always a half-match for their children, and vice versa. Siblings have a 50% chance of being a half-match for each other.

This means that you have a greater choice of potential donors – almost all people have at least one potential haploidentical match in their family.

Haploidentical transplants are becoming more common but unfortunately they are not suitable for everyone. Your transplant team will be able to give you more information about your best possible option.

You can download our factsheet PDF (90KB) on haploidentical transplants for more detailed information.

I'm really close to my mum, as a result of everything I have been through. My mum stayed by me, always.

Megan received stem cells from her mum to treat her aplastic anaemia. You can read their story here.

Information published: 22/04/2021
Next review due: 22/04/2024

Related links

Preparing for a stem cell transplant

Recovery: Body

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