Fred Hutch/SCCA transplant patient survival above the expected rate in U.S.

For 5th year in a row, bone marrow transplant program receives top recognition
The Fred Hutch/Seattle Cancer Care Alliance campus in Seattle
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (left), the clinical care partner of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, is located on the Hutch campus near Seattle's South Lake Union. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

For the fifth year in a row, the Fred Hutch Bone Marrow Transplant Program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has been recognized by the Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research as exceeding expectations for one-year survival rates. These survival rates specifically pertain to patients who have received transplants of blood-forming stem cells from healthy donors, a procedure pioneered at Fred Hutch.

The Fred Hutch/SCCA program was one of 13 centers around the country to receive this top evaluation and one of only six that has exceeded expectations for at least five years in a row. The annual CIBMTR report, issued Dec. 14, included nearly 24,000 allogeneic transplants performed from 2013 through 2015 at 174 transplant centers around the nation.

Dr. Nancy E. Davidson
Dr. Nancy E. Davidson Fred Hutch file photo

“The news that our bone marrow transplant program has achieved top outcomes in patient survival for the fifth year in a row reflects the strength of the Fred Hutch and SCCA partnership in translating scientific discoveries into successful treatments,” said Dr. Nancy E. Davidson, senior vice president of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch, and president and executive director of SCCA. She’s also head of the Division of Medical Oncology at the University of Washington School of Medicine.

“I’m delighted by what this means for patients and their families, and I’m thankful to our dedicated staff for continuing to improve outcomes of patients,” she said.

Blood stem cell transplantation traces its roots to Fred Hutch. The procedure — once called radical — has been developed into a potentially lifesaving cure for leukemia and other blood disorders. It involves eliminating as many of the cancerous or diseased blood cells as possible before replacing them with healthy donated blood-forming stem cells, which can come from bone marrow, circulating blood or umbilical cord blood.

“Since pioneering bone marrow transplantation more than 40 years ago, Fred Hutch has led the field in scientific breakthroughs that translate into higher survival rates for patients,” said Dr. Gary Gilliland, the Hutch’s president and director. “I look forward to seeing how this achievement will propel future research advances, especially in the emerging area of cellular therapies for treating cancer.”

The findings

Each year the CIBMTR releases an analysis based on survival outcomes of patients receiving a variety of types of blood stem cell transplants for diseases including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, severe aplastic anemia and other blood disorders. The report is a federal requirement intended to give potential patients, their families and the public information about which treatment centers are performing at, above or below expectations.

The reporting period for the 2017 report covered Jan. 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2015. During this three-year period, 795 allogeneic transplants were performed at Fred Hutch/SCCA and met the criteria for the study.

Fred Hutch/SCCA was one of 13 centers (7 percent) identified as over-performing. Survival rates at 21 centers (12 percent) were below the expected average, and 140 (80 percent) were average. Only six centers, including the Hutch, had the distinction of being named a top performer for at least five years in a row.

Dr. Marco Mielcarek
Dr. Marco Mielcarek Photo by Kris Krüg for SCCA

“We are extremely pleased to see that thanks to the hard work of our multidisciplinary transplant teams, patients receiving transplants at the Hutch experienced better than expected survival rates,” said Dr. Marco Mielcarek, medical director for the Adult Bone Marrow Transplant Program at SCCA, and member of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch.

“Superior outcomes after allogeneic transplantation at our center are likely attributable to many factors: dedicated teamwork, decades of transplant experience, evidence-based care standards, and groundbreaking research. These factors have led to incremental yet consistent improvements in efficacy and safety of stem cell transplantation,” Mielcarek said.

Pioneering history of transplantation

The Hutch’s Dr. E. Donnall Thomas led a team of scientists in developing the treatment, which has saved hundreds of thousands of lives. The work earned him the 1990 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Many of the current SCCA and Fred Hutch transplantation experts, as well as clinicians and researchers at other transplant programs around the world, were trained by Thomas.

Transplant patient Crystal Day
Transplant patient Crystal Day Fred Hutch file photo

More than 14,000 bone marrow transplants have been performed by the Fred Hutch Bone Marrow Transplant Program at SCCA.

Scientists at the Hutch continue to make strides in improving the procedure. In addition to reducing transplant-specific complications such as graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), a complication that affects up to 80 percent of patients, further research at the Hutch is aimed at reducing the risk of disease relapse after transplant.

These scientific advances give hope for patients as they grapple with treatment choices.

“Today, I am three years post–transplant, and am considered a success story,” said Crystal Day, of Seattle, who received a transplant at SCCA. “I became a licensed architect last year and have designed several research laboratories, including one at Fred Hutch. I also get to enjoy life's simple pleasures … traveling with my husband and going for walks with my dog. I am healthy again, thanks to the umbilical cord-blood cells I received as a result of pioneering research at Fred Hutch.”

Learn more about the lifesaving work of bone marrow transplantation.

Molly McElroy, a senior media relations specialist at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, has written about science, education and policy topics at the University of Washington and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Reach her on Twitter @mwmcelroy.

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