Skip to Content
Home > Wellness > Health Library > Stem Cell Transplant for Sickle Cell Disease
Stem cell transplantation is a potential cure for sickle cell disease. Stem cells can be found in bone marrow. Bone marrow is
the substance in the center of your bones that produces red blood cells. A
sickle cell disease has bone marrow that produces red
blood cells with defective hemoglobin S. But if that bone marrow is replaced
with healthy bone marrow, a person's body may start to produce normal
Stem cell transplants require bone
marrow from another person (donor). This is called an allogeneic stem cell transplant.
Before the transplant, bone marrow stem cells are
taken from someone who has closely matching bone marrow, usually a healthy
brother or sister. The child who has sickle cell disease is then treated with
drugs that destroy his or her bone marrow cells. After that, the donated bone
marrow stem cells are injected into a vein.
After the process is
complete, the donor's bone marrow begins to replace the recipient's bone
marrow. These new cells restore the
immune system and make normal red blood cells.
stem cell transplant, recovery takes 1 to 2 months
in the hospital. The child's natural defense system needs this time to start
During recovery, doctors watch closely for signs
that the immune system is rejecting the new bone marrow and for signs of
infection. If a problem occurs, recovery can take longer or the transplant may
Stem cell transplants offer a
potential cure for a child's sickle cell disease. They are usually considered
only for children younger than 16 who have:1
The risks of stem cell transplant become greater as a
person gets older and/or develops damage to major organs. For these reasons, a
bone marrow transplant is not a treatment option for most adults who have
sickle cell disease. But research on bone marrow transplants in adults is ongoing.
If successful, a bone marrow
transplant can cure sickle cell disease. This treatment has been successful in about 85 out of 100 children who had transplants.1, 2 But the risk of dying after a transplant is about 5% to 10%.3
Complete the special treatment information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you understand this treatment.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National
Institutes of Health (2002). The Management of Sickle Cell Disease (NIH Publication No. 02-2117). Available online:
Ratko TA, et al. (2012). Hematopoietic Stem-Cell Transplantation in
the Pediatric Population. Comparative Effectiveness Review No. 48 (AHRQ Publication No. 12-EHC018-EF). Rockville,
MD: Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.
Wang WC (2009). Sickle cell anemia and other sickling
syndromes. In JP Greer et al., eds., Wintrobe's Clinical Hematology, 12th ed., pp. 1038–1082. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams
Steinberg MH (2012). Sickle cell disease and other hemoglobinopathies. In L Goldman, A Shafer, eds., Goldman's Cecil Medicine, 24th ed., pp. 1066–1075. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Martin Steinberg, MD - Hematology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more, visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2014 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.