MILWAUKEE -- Doctors seem to have found a way to make bone marrow transplants safer and more effective against blood cancers like leukemia, an achievement that offers new hope for people over 50 in particular.
The advance by Stanford University doctors could make such transplants, which have dramatically improved cancer survival among children and young adults, more widely available to older people who typically don't fare as well. It also brings the field closer to reaching its long-sought goal: training a recipient's body to accept tissue from another person and live a ''blended" life without heavy reliance on anti-rejection drugs.
Scientists already had achieved this in mice; Stanford researchers now have extended it to people. Their study is published today in the New England Journal of Medicine and was funded by the National Institutes of Health.
Specialists said the study was small and preliminary, but very promising. ''If it works, we would be able to do transplants in a lot more people," said Dr. Mary Horowitz, of the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research, based at the Medical College of Wisconsin, which had no role in the research.
Stanford researchers developed a way to condition the recipient to accept the new marrow and to inactivate the parts of the patient's immune system that would attack it.