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Transplant program reaches a milestone

November 21, 2008


Dr. Robert Good.

Dr. Robert Good performed the world's first successful bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota.

The University's Blood and Marrow Transplant Program reaches 40

By Nick Hanson

Exactly 15 years ago, when Vicki Bakk was diagnosed with leukemia, her only wish was to be able to live long enough to raise her 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.

Her prospects didn't look very bright, however. Doctors predicted a couple of years life expectancy at most.

That's when Bakk decided to undergo a bone marrow transplant at the University of Minnesota, a pioneer and leading research institution in that field. Fortunately, bone marrow from her brother Tim—had received life-saving treatment at the University for a brain tumor 35 years earlier—turned out to be a perfect match.

Fast forward 15 years.

She's had no resurgence of cancer. Bakk rides about 800 miles a year on bicycle, is an avid hiker, and basically lives a normal life.

"The emotions that I feel from that experience, I expect them to lessen," says Bakk. "But each year I experience my [transplant] birthday I feel equally grateful. All we can say is, 'thank you U of M.' People [should be] proud of the research the University does for families like us."

Dozens of others, many with stories like Bakk's, are coming to the University of Minnesota this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) Program. A few patients to note:

The BMT program at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview has been at the forefront of advances since 1968, when a team under Dr. Robert Good performed the world's first successful transplant. During the past 40 years, University of Minnesota physicians have performed more than 5,000 more transplants, and University researchers continue to perfect transplant technology.

The program has always been a pioneer in transplants, mostly because doctors have been willing to seek treatments for diseases that people didn't think could be touched, especially with a transplant, says John Kersey, BMT program founder and a mentor of Dr. Good's.

Seven years after Good performed the first successful bone marrow transplant, Kersey used the same technique to successfully treat a 16-year-old with lymphoma who, by the way, will be at the anniversary this weekend.

"Through history, we really have been one of the leading institutions in BMT research and treatments," Good says. "This weekend is worthy of celebration—for our patients, doctors, and program."

Other highlights from the University of Minnesota's BMT program include the pioneering of double cord blood transplants, the success of Molly Nash's transplant to cur Fanconi's anemia from her perfectly matched sibling, and, most recently, the attempt to cure EB, a fatal genetic skin disease in children.

In the last 40 years there have been dramatic increases in life expectancy for kids with leukemia, other blood cancers, and other genetic diseases such as Fanconi's anemia and ALD, many due to treatments developed at the U.

In the future, Kersey believes, BMT treatments may not even be necessary. Therapies for ailments such as lymphoma could possibly be administered through drugs, perhaps in pill form.

Until then, the University's BMT research and treatments will continue to lead the way.

For more information:
Visit the U of M BMT Web site.
Watch a video about a recent BMT procedure used to cure a fatal childhood skin disease.

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