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Bone Marrow Transplant Program Completes 5,000th Procedure

Jason Merrill

Gary Ronchetto, 60, of Morrisonville, Ill., talks with Ravi Vij, MD, who performed his transplant.

Aug. 9, 2011 – The bone marrow and stem cell transplant program at the Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine has achieved an important clinical landmark – 5,000 transplants. Physicians performed the milestone transplant July 18.

“Taking care of one transplant patient is a phenomenal amount of work,” says John DiPersio, MD, PhD, Siteman deputy director and chief of the Division of Oncology at Washington University School of Medicine. “It requires a critical mass of physicians, physician-scientists, nurses and nurse practitioners. To have achieved 5,000 – it’s an enormous undertaking.”

The 5000th transplant patient is Gary Ronchetto, 60, of Morrisonville, Ill., who received his transplant from Ravi Vij, MD, to fight multiple myeloma. “We’re lucky this was an option,” says Mary Ronchetto of her husband’s transplant. “Things like this are just not available at most hospitals.”

The transplant program was established at Washington University in 1980. The first recorded transplant was performed in 1982 with marrow from a matched sibling pair. This year, the program expects to perform 400 transplants, including about 200 allogeneic transplants, making it one of the largest transplant centers in the country.

According to DiPersio, a transplant physician who led the program from 1994 to 2006, one of the program’s greatest assets is its faculty.

“We have a strong mix of basic scientists, translational investigators and clinicians who are active in clinical research.” he says.

At any given time, Siteman physicians who treat leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other blood-related cancers – which often require transplantation – offer more than 40 therapeutic clinical studies.

“We put about 50 percent of our new patients on studies,” DiPersio says.

This includes single-institution studies offered only at Siteman. These studies offer patients the chance to receive new treatments before they are widely available at other centers.

In recent years, Siteman physicians have conducted clinical studies that led to the approval of the drug plerixafor to mobilize, or harvest, stem cells for transplant in patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma. They participated in studies that showed decitabine and high-dose lenalidomide were effective treatments for elderly patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). And they were the first to use a novel suicide gene for gene therapy to control graft-versus-host disease.

In 2008, scientists affiliated with Siteman and Washington University’s Genome Institute became the first in the world to sequence the genome of a cancer patient, a woman with AML. This achievement has been followed by a series of studies that highlight the diagnostic and therapeutic potential of whole-genome sequencing in hematologic malignancies.

For more information about the 5,000th transplant and the history of Siteman’s bone marrow transplant program, visit