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Stem Cell Transplantation for ALL in india : Procedure and Recovery

30 Nov, 2023

Blog author iconHealthtrip Team

Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, commonly referred to as ALL, is a type of blood cancer that primarily affects the white blood cells, particularly lymphocytes. It is characterized by the rapid production of abnormal lymphoblasts (immature white blood cells) in the bone marrow and blood. ALL is one of the most common childhood cancers, but it can also affect adults.

Stem cell transplantation, also known as hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), is a medical procedure used to treat a variety of blood-related disorders, including ALL. It involves the infusion of healthy stem cells into a patient's bloodstream to replace or repair damaged bone marrow, which is the site of blood cell production.

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Stem cell transplantation is a critical treatment option for ALL when other treatments have not been effective or when there is a high risk of relapse. In this blog, we will delve into the intricacies of stem cell transplantation, including what it entails, why it is recommended, when it is considered, and who can serve as a stem cell donor. Additionally, we will discuss the procedure itself, the recovery process, the best hospitals in India offering this treatment, the associated risks and benefits, and the outlook for recovery.

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Why it is done:

Stem cell transplantation for ALL is undertaken for several reasons. Primarily, it is considered when other treatments like chemotherapy have not been successful in achieving remission. It offers the possibility of eradicating cancer cells and providing a long-term cure. Additionally, it is used in cases where ALL has relapsed after initial treatment or when a patient is in the second remission but still has a high risk of relapse.

The timing of stem cell transplantation depends on the specific circumstances of the patient. It is often considered when the patient's leukemia is in a high-risk category or has not responded well to initial treatments. Sometimes, it is used as part of the initial treatment plan, especially for high-risk cases. The timing is determined through careful evaluation by medical professionals.

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Who needs it ?

  • Patients with high-risk ALL, characterized by genetic mutations or chromosome abnormalities.
  • Those who experience a relapse of ALL after initial treatment or have refractory (resistant) disease.
  • Patients in a second remission with high-risk features or a history of relapse.
  • Cases where an autologous transplant is not feasible, and a suitable allogeneic donor is available.
  • Younger patients, especially children, with high-risk ALL.
  • Individuals with Philadelphia chromosome-positive (Ph+) ALL, especially if they don't respond well to other therapies.
  • Patients with minimal residual disease (MRD) after achieving remission, as consolidation therapy.

Who can donate stem cells (autologous vs. allogeneic):

Stem cells for transplantation can be obtained from different sources. Autologous transplantation involves using a patient's own stem cells, which are collected and preserved before undergoing high-dose chemotherapy. Allogeneic transplantation, on the other hand, utilizes stem cells from a donor. This donor can be a family member, usually a sibling with a suitable match, or an unrelated donor who is a suitable match. The choice between autologous and allogeneic transplantation depends on the patient's specific situation and the availability of a compatible donor.

The Procedure

Stem cell transplantation is a complex medical procedure that involves several crucial steps. Here, we will break down the key components of the process, providing insight into what patients can expect when undergoing stem cell transplantation for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).

1. Conditioning: Conditioning is the initial phase of stem cell transplantation and plays a vital role in preparing the patient's body for the infusion of healthy stem cells. During this phase, the patient receives high-dose chemotherapy and, in some cases, radiation therapy. The purpose of conditioning is twofold:

  • Eliminate Cancer Cells: High-dose chemotherapy aims to eradicate any remaining cancer cells in the bone marrow and bloodstream. It essentially "clears the way" for the incoming healthy stem cells.
  • Suppression of the Immune System: Conditioning also serves to suppress the patient's immune system temporarily. This is necessary to prevent the body from rejecting the transplanted stem cells (in allogeneic transplants) and to reduce the risk of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD).

2. Stem Cell Infusion: Once the patient has undergone the conditioning phase, it is time for the actual stem cell transplantation. Healthy stem cells, either collected from the patient (autologous transplant) or a donor (allogeneic transplant), are infused into the patient's bloodstream through a catheter, similar to receiving a blood transfusion. This process is usually painless and takes several hours.

3. Engraftment: Engraftment is a critical phase that follows stem cell infusion. During this period, the transplanted stem cells migrate to the bone marrow, where they begin to establish themselves. Over the course of several days to weeks, these stem cells gradually produce new, healthy blood cells, including red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. Successful engraftment is a significant milestone in the transplantation process.

4. Recovery: Recovery after stem cell transplantation can be challenging and lengthy. Patients will be closely monitored in a specialized transplant unit or hospital. During this time, various aspects of recovery are addressed:

  • Infection Prevention: Patients have a weakened immune system, so they are at a higher risk of infections. Strict infection control measures are in place to minimize this risk. Patients may receive antibiotics or antifungal medications.
  • Blood Cell Support: Blood transfusions of red blood cells and platelets may be necessary to maintain healthy blood counts.
  • Nutritional Support: Proper nutrition is crucial for recovery. Patients may work with a dietitian to ensure they receive adequate nutrition.
  • Pain Management: Managing pain and discomfort is an essential aspect of recovery. Medications and other pain management techniques are utilized.
  • Psychosocial Support: Patients and their families may benefit from counseling and support services to cope with the emotional and psychological challenges of the transplantation process.
  • Long-Term Follow-Up: After the initial recovery phase, patients will continue to receive long-term follow-up care to monitor their health, detect any complications, and assess the status of the transplant.

Importance of Pre-Transplant Evaluation: Pre-transplant evaluation is a critical step in ensuring the success of stem cell transplantation. It involves a thorough assessment of the patient's overall health and suitability for the procedure. This evaluation may include:

  • Medical History and Physical Examination: A detailed medical history is taken, and a physical examination is conducted to assess the patient's general health and identify any existing medical conditions.
  • Cardiac and Pulmonary Evaluation: Heart and lung function tests may be performed to assess the patient's ability to tolerate the conditioning regimen.
  • Infection Screening: Tests for existing infections are conducted to prevent complications during the transplant.
  • Psychological and Emotional Evaluation: Patients and their families may undergo psychological assessments to address any emotional or mental health concerns.
  • Donor Compatibility: For allogeneic transplants, ensuring compatibility with the donor is a crucial part of the evaluation process.
  • Financial and Social Considerations: Assessing the patient's financial situation and support network can help in planning for the transplantation process and post-transplant care.

Best Hospitals in India for Stem Cell Transplantation:

1. Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi:

Hospital Banner

Location: Sarita Vihar, Delhi-Mathura Road, New Delhi - 110076, India

  • Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, is a multi-specialty tertiary acute care hospital.
  • It boasts 710 beds and is one of the most sought-after healthcare destinations in Asia.
  • The hospital is a state-of-the-art modern facility situated in the heart of the capital.
  • It spans across 15 acres and has a built-up area of over 600,000 square feet.
  • Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, is a flagship hospital of the Apollo Hospitals Group, known for its clinical excellence.
  • The hospital aims to achieve the best clinical outcomes for patients with complex diseases.
  • This is made possible through the best staff, the latest technology, and standardized processes.
  • Highly qualified consultants undergo a rigorous credentialing and privileging process.
  • Staff members receive regular training, attend conferences, and participate in continuing medical education programs to stay updated with the latest developments in their fields.
  • The hospital is equipped with cutting-edge medical technologies, including PET-MR, PET-CT, Da Vinci Robotic Surgery System, BrainLab Navigation System, Portable CT Scanner, NovalisTx, Tilting MRI, Cobalt-based HDR Brachytherapy, DSA Lab, Hyperbaric Chamber, Fibroscan, Endosonography, 3 Tesla MRI, and a 128-Slice CT scanner.
  • These technologies ensure world-class healthcare services.
  • Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals was the first hospital in India to receive JCI accreditation in 2005, highlighting its commitment to standardized processes.
  • It was also reaccredited in 2008 and 2011.
  • The hospital has NABL accredited clinical laboratories and a state-of-the-art blood bank.

Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, is renowned for its comprehensive medical services, commitment to clinical excellence, and access to advanced medical technologies, making it a top healthcare destination in Asia.

  • Location: Sector - 44, Opposite HUDA City Centre, Gurgaon, Haryana - 122002, India
  • Fortis Memorial Research Institute (FMRI) is a multi-super specialty, quaternary care hospital.
  • It boasts an international faculty, reputed clinicians, super-sub-specialists, and specialty nurses.
  • The hospital is known for utilizing cutting-edge technology to provide advanced medical care.
  • FMRI aims to be the 'Mecca of Healthcare' for Asia Pacific and beyond.
  • The hospital is situated on a spacious 11-acre campus and offers 1000 beds.
  • It is often referred to as the 'Next Generation Hospital' and is built on the pillars of Talent, Technology, Infrastructure, and Service.
  • FMRI has undergone a thorough on-site review of the quality and safety of care provided, and it is committed to continuously meeting rigorous international standards.
  • FMRI is unmatched in the fields of Neurosciences, Oncology, Renal Sciences, Orthopedics, Cardiac Sciences, Obstetrics, and Gynecology.
  • It has solidified its position as one of the top hospitals in Gurgaon by leveraging advanced technology and top clinicians to deliver high-quality healthcare.
  • Fortis Memorial Research Institute is a flagship hospital of Fortis Healthcare, one of the leading healthcare providers in the country.
  • Fortis Memorial Research Institute in Gurgaon is known for its exceptional healthcare services, advanced technology, and a wide range of medical specialties. It is committed to providing top-notch medical care and adhering to international standards of quality and safety.

Hospital Banner

  • Location: Situated in Gurgaon, India
  • Size: Located on a sprawling 9-acre campus.
  • Bed Capacity: Over 400 beds.
  • Accreditations: The first JCI (Joint Commission International) and NABH (National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers) accredited hospital in Gurgaon.
  • Advanced Infrastructure: Designed as one of the most advanced hospitals in India.
  • Medical Expertise: Provides a wide range of advanced medical and surgical interventions.
  • Comprehensive Services: Offers a comprehensive mix of inpatient and outpatient services.
  • Technology: Equipped with modern technology, enhancing healthcare standards.
  • Research-Oriented Practices: Medical practices and procedures are research-oriented and benchmarked against global standards.
  • Recognized Excellence: Received the 'Asia Pacific Hand Hygiene Excellence Award' by WHO in 2011.
  • Specialties: Excelling in various medical fields, including cardiology, CTVS (Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery), neurology, neurosurgery, neuro-interventional, oncology, surgical oncology, orthopedics, spine surgery, organ transplants, general surgery, emergency care, and women & child care.

Artemis Hospital combines state-of-the-art infrastructure with a focus on research-oriented practices, making it one of the most respected and accredited hospitals in Gurgaon, India.

4. Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad:

Hospital Banner

  • To provide world-class healthcare services with a commitment to excellence, expertise, empathy, and innovation
  • Established in 1988, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, is a trusted integrated Health City in Asia, offering comprehensive healthcare services.
  • The hospital is known for its commitment to clinical excellence and patient-centric care.
  • Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, provides a wide range of medical services, including pharmacy services, emergency care, diagnostics, cardiac surgeries, dialysis, and organ transplants.
  • The hospital's dedicated team of healthcare professionals ensures high-quality care at competitive costs.
  • Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, is a pioneer in future-ready healthcare, integrating education, research, telemedicine, medical device innovation, and wellness facilities on a single campus.
  • The hospital is known for its hospitality and empathetic approach to patient care, ensuring a stress-free experience.
  • Committed to clinical excellence, Apollo Hospitals has received international quality accreditations such as JCI.
  • The Centers of Excellence offer specialized care, saving patients time and effort.
  • Founded by Dr. Prathap C. Reddy, the hospital emphasizes new therapies, advanced technology, and superior diagnostics for quality treatment.
  • The patient-centric approach and collaboration among specialists lead to higher success rates.

Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad, continues to be a beacon of healthcare excellence, offering a wide spectrum of services and maintaining its commitment to clinical innovation and patient well-being.

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Risks and Benefits of Stem Cell Transplantation for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)

Stem cell transplantation offers hope for a cure in the treatment of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). However, like any medical procedure, it comes with its own set of risks and benefits. In this section, we will explore both aspects in detail.


  1. Potential for a Cure: The primary benefit of stem cell transplantation for ALL is the potential for a cure. For many patients, especially those with high-risk or relapsed ALL, stem cell transplantation offers the best chance of achieving long-term remission and ultimately being leukemia-free.
  2. Higher Survival Rates: Stem cell transplantation has significantly improved survival rates for patients with ALL, particularly those with adverse prognostic factors. Many patients who undergo successful transplantation can go on to lead healthy, cancer-free lives.
  3. Treatment for Relapsed Cases: Stem cell transplantation can be an effective treatment option for patients whose ALL has relapsed after initial therapy. It provides a new opportunity for achieving remission, even when other treatments have been unsuccessful.
  4. Potential for Allogeneic Donors: Allogeneic transplantation allows for the use of healthy stem cells from a compatible donor, which can be particularly advantageous when a suitable match is available. These donor cells have the potential to mount a powerful immune response against any remaining cancer cells.
  5. Long-Term Remission: Many patients who undergo successful stem cell transplantation enjoy long-term remission, allowing them to resume normal activities, including work, school, and hobbies.


  1. Graft-versus-Host Disease (GVHD): One of the most significant risks associated with allogeneic stem cell transplantation (transplants using a donor) is GVHD. This occurs when the donor's immune cells recognize the recipient's body as foreign and attack healthy tissues. GVHD can affect various organs, including the skin, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. The severity of GVHD can vary, and it often requires immunosuppressive medications to manage.
  2. Infections: Patients who undergo stem cell transplantation have a weakened immune system due to the conditioning regimen and the transplantation itself. This makes them highly susceptible to infections, which can range from mild to life-threatening. Infection prevention measures, such as isolation and prophylactic antibiotics, are crucial during the early post-transplant period.
  3. Graft Failure: In some cases, the transplanted stem cells may fail to engraft and produce healthy blood cells in the recipient's bone marrow. Graft failure can necessitate additional treatments, such as a second transplant or alternative therapies.
  4. Organ Damage: The high-dose chemotherapy and radiation used in the conditioning phase can lead to damage to vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and kidneys. This can result in long-term health issues that require ongoing medical care.
  5. Relapse: While stem cell transplantation offers a chance for remission and potentially a cure, there is still a risk of leukemia relapse. If the cancer returns, it can be more challenging to treat, as the patient's body may have already undergone intensive therapies.

Success Rates of Stem Cell Transplantation for Blood Cancer in India

Stem cell transplantation is a treatment option for blood cancer patients in India. Success rates can vary due to factors like cancer type, transplant type (autologous or allogeneic), patient age and health, the experience of the medical team, and individual variations. A reports that the success rate of stem cell therapy for blood cancer patients in India is around 80%.

In conclusion, stem cell transplantation is a vital option for treating ALL in India, offering hope for patients when other treatments have limitations. With advancements in medical technology and the expertise of Indian healthcare institutions, the outlook for recovery and long-term remission is promising. If you or a loved one is facing ALL, consult with a healthcare professional to explore the suitability of stem cell transplantation as a treatment option.

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Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) is a type of blood cancer that primarily affects white blood cells, particularly lymphocytes. It involves the rapid production of abnormal lymphoblasts in the bone marrow and blood.