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New study allows for at-home stem cell treatments

Posted December 9, 2015

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— Traditionally, a stem cell transplant to fight cancer involves 100 days in the hospital, but a study conducted by doctors at Duke University Hospital is putting that assumption to the test.

Late last spring Beth Vanderkin, 44, was diagnosed with lymphoma after doctors discovered a mass in her chest.

"The tumor grew larger, instead of shrinking," Vanderkin said.

Doctors at Duke tried low-dose radiation treatments in effort to shrink the tumor enough so that she could breathe. They did not expect the treatments to be as effective as they were.

"The cancer is gone," she said.

After doctors said the cancer was gone, Vanderkin was able to receive a bone marrow transplant to reduce the chance of recurrence. Her 21-year-old daughter was the donor.

The transplant was done at Duke, and a current study gave her the option of getting the rest of her care and treatments at home.

Anderson Garrett, a nurse, is among the staff members who visits Vanderkin on a regular basis at her home to collect blood and stool samples for the study.

"We are comparing the results to the patients that are in the hospital at the time that they are here," said Dr. Nelson Chao, chief of the Division of Cellular Therapy.

Chao said he is interested in the organisms that live in a person versus what has been discovered in hospital environments.

"A lot of the bugs in the hospital are not very friendly bugs, and the question is, if (a patient) stays at home, will those bugs be the same bugs they have always been used to," he said.

With certain infection controls established in the home, Dr. Chao says it is possible that patients will fare better at home. The benefits include lower costs, better diet and exercise and overall quality of life.

"It has just been wonderful...it is wonderful to be at home and not be in a hospital environment," Vanderkin said.

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