Klinik Hirslanden and the Oncology Centre Hirslanden Zurich have teamed up with Aarau Cantonal Hospital to offer autologous blood stem cell transplants. Our medical programme for cell therapy allows us to treat patients suffering from malignant diseases of the blood and bone marrow with an effective therapy procedure.

High-dose chemotherapy with autologous blood stem cell transplantation

Fortunately, some tumours can be cured. The success rate depends on the chemotherapy dose, which cannot simply be increased as our organs only tolerate a certain dose. One of the most sensitive organs is our blood system. Most blood cells are formed in the bone marrow. If a patient is given an extremely high dose of chemotherapy, this may well destroy the tumour, but it also damages the bone marrow to such an extent that, without further treatment, the patient would then die of anaemia or a weakened immune system. The method of autologous blood stem cell transplantation is used in such cases.

Here blood stem cells are collected from the patient's blood using an apheresis machine and stored in liquid nitrogen. Following high-dose chemotherapy, the blood stem cells are returned to the patient via an infusion. They find their way to the bone marrow, where they again start to produce sufficient blood and immune cells after around 8–10 days. The phase until the patient is able to form sufficient blood cells once more is known as aplasia. There is an increased risk of infection during this period, which can generally be overcome with the infusion of blood products and other medication. Such patients are hospitalised in single rooms and are not permitted to leave them during this critical period.

Interview between Prof. Dr. med. Renner and a patient

What comes to mind when you hear the term "stem cell transplantion"?

Probably a serious disease to begin win, and then stem cells donated by a stranger. When I found out right at the start that I'd be getting my treated stem cells back again, I understood what it meant. I was optimistic about the procedure. This method of transplanting stem cells was the next step in regaining my health.

What did you experience when your stem cells were collected and then returned to you?

The stem cell collection was completely painless. I found it a bit difficult to lie down for 6 hours straight as I was hooked up by both arms. So, it was a relief when I got a call saying there were enough stem cells, and I didn't have to undergo the collection procedure again. It didn't take long before the stem cells were returned. The doctor explained the procedure to me. He was assisted by a nurse, who offered me support as well. The three injections each only took around a minute. I had an unpleasant but brief sensation of pressure in my chest, a tickle in my throat and a feeling of heat in my head, but this all soon passed.

How did you find being in hospital as an inpatient for around 3 weeks? In particular, having to stay in your room 24/7 for 10 days?

I felt fine. The doctors visited me every day and I had the support of the nursing staff. I knew how important the quarantine period was for my immune system. That meant the 10 days were not a problem. I had my husband's visits to distract me, as well as the view of the lovely green courtyard outside. As I always felt like eating, except on three days, I felt fine. I was even able to do my yoga exercises in bed almost every day. Of course it was a relief when the quarantine period came to an end and I was slowly able to venture into the corridor and the courtyard. That was great!

What is recovery like after the transplant? What are the main symptoms?

I had to be careful to keep my mouth really clean to prevent any inflammation. Doing light exercises in my room and the physio recommended by the doctors helped me to get stronger and fitter.