I've seen the future and it looks like a small dishwasher. What looks like something that could give your mugs a good scrub actually is an amazing piece of kit. It's a stem cell harvesting machine and I had the honour of using one back in August.
Due to the nature of my high dose Chemotherapy course, my immune system takes a battering. The longer you go without an immune system the more likely you are to pick up an infection that will do you serious harm. I had an infection on my last chemo session and it was the most unpleasant few days of my life. So the idea with stem cell therapy is to help you get your immune system back on track quicker.
The process as I went through it is this . After I had a quick 48 hours of chemotherapy (not high dose) to kick things off, I was sent home with huge bag of drugs, mostly of which were G-CSF injections to stimulate production of stem cells from my bone marrow into my blood. The effect of this was to make my joints ache to hell, but at least I knew it was working.
After a week of injections then I went to Ward 7a and that's where the magic happened. The idea of stem cell harvesting is that they take healthy stem cells from your blood, freeze them and then give them back to you when you don't have an immune system. The healthy stem cells go into your blood stream, grow and produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. These then can fight off infections. The excellent Anthony Nolan charity has a good explainer here Excitingly when my stem cells were delivered back to me it was wheeled in what looked like a golden small Dalek. When they opened the Dalek up dry ice poured out. It was very sci-fi.
The actual mechanics of the harvest machine are quite simple but very clever. You sit in a chair and have cannulas fitted to both your arms. My right arm was then fitted with tubes to draw out my blood, while my left had a tube for giving the blood back to me. In the middle was the machine. It takes your blood, spins it through a centrifuge which separates out your stem cells and plasma, collects them, then sends the washed blood back to you. Finally I got to feel like a professional cyclist.
The effect of all this is that it cuts down the time you are without immunity from around 20 days to less than 10. It's a huge boost to patients like myself who have to go through high dose treatments. It is also used with great effect with those suffering with blood cancers. A guy called John Underwood also being treated at Barts has hepatosplenic T-cell lymphoma and went through the procedure yesterday. The machine that looks like a dishwasher literally saves lives as it's not just your own stem cells that can be given to you. Other people can donate their stem cells if they are a match for people who can't produce there own.
Stem cells are now used in a whole host of treatments. They really are the future.