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Doctors Researching New Alternative For Bone Marrow Transplants

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RALEIGH, N.C. — More than 95,000 people will be diagnosed with leukemia or lymphoma this year -- the majority of them will be adults. One of the treatments that offers the most hope is not always an option because of their age. A new twist to bone marrow transplants may help them beat the odds.

Julius Dix, 69, will never forget the day doctors told him he had leukemia.

"I was also told that it's a terminal illness, and I had about three to five years to live," he said.

Bone marrow transplants can help save the lives of people with leukemia or lymphoma, but many times people, like Dix, are not candidates because they are either too old or too sick.

Standard bone marrow transplants use high doses of radiation and chemotherapy. A new variation -- called the Mini BMT (bone marrow transplant) -- uses less radiation and chemotherapy. Because it is less toxic, it is often ideal for older patients.

"By having this technology available, it allows us to actually offer potentially curative therapy to a part of the population that has never really benefited before from what we really have to offer," said hematologist Dr. Stephen Fornan.

It has been one year since Dix's transplant, which put his cancer in remission.

"It also gave me a chance to improve the quality of my life," he said.

So far, the results are good. Doctors warn it is too early to know for sure just how successful the minitransplants will be.

"We're just at the beginning of this. We have patients that have been successful transplantations, one, two, three years after transplants. We want to be sure that five, 10, 15 years from now, they're OK," Fornan said.

Only a few cancer centers are involved in clinical trials for mini-BMTs. One of the reasons doctors believe they have been so successful is because the donor's bone marrow has a built-in immune system, which helps destroy cancer cells.


Ken Bodine, Photographer
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