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Marrow Transplants Cure Leukemia

April 1, 1998

BOSTON (AP) _ Marrow transplants from unrelated donors can often cure victims of a form of blood cancer called chronic myeloid leukemia, a study found.

Transplants are already standard when there is a brother or sister whose marrow is a perfect match. However, transplants from unrelated donors are often avoided for fear of deadly reactions.

The latest study suggests that marrow taken from perfectly matched but unrelated donors oftens work, especially if the patients are relatively young and their disease was recently diagnosed.

The study, conducted by Dr. John A. Hansen of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, was published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

Five years after their transplants, 57 percent of those who got marrow from unrelated but perfectly matched donors were still alive.

The survival rate was 74 percent for people who were under age 50 and were treated within a year of finding their cancer. This is about as good as the results of transplants between perfectly matched siblings.

In an editorial, Dr. Rudiger Hehlmann of Mannheim, Germany, called the results extremely encouraging, since people who live this long after their transplants can be considered cured.

``Until now, similar rates of cure were possible only for patients with a related donor,″ he wrote.

By searching bone marrow donor registries, doctors can find perfectly matched marrow for about 80 percent of people who cannot get marrow from a brother or sister.

Chronic myeloid leukemia is a disease in which the bone marrow makes too many white blood cells. It often strikes adults in their 40s and cannot be cured with chemotherapy.