MetroHealth Launches New Blood and Marrow Transplant Program
Program targets eligible transplant patients who have had difficulty complying with requirements set by other programs
MetroHealth’s Blood and Marrow Transplant program, created for patients who face socioeconomic and other barriers that prevent them from receiving life-saving care elsewhere, is preparing for its first stem cell transplant later this month.
“Many of our patients have limited resources,” said William W. Tse, MD, who joined MetroHealth in 2020 as Division Director of Hematology & Oncology. “If we simply use a conventional transplant approach, our outcomes may be poorer because our patients may be riskier to treat. We want to provide a safer, more supportive approach to transplant.”
Patients who lack reliable transportation for the many required appointments, access to healthy foods, strong support networks and other resources often face barriers that prevent them from receiving care at other transplant centers. MetroHealth’s new program embraces the health system’s already-in-place infrastructure – the Institute for H.O.P.E.™, the Food as Medicine Program and various wraparound services – to address these health-related social needs.
In February, MetroHealth performed a stem cell collection on its first patient, who is scheduled to undergo an autologous stem cell transplant in mid-April.
Certain cancers or diseases are effectively treated with very high doses of chemotherapy that, in turn, can hamper the ability to make new blood cells. With autologous transplants, patients receive their own healthy stem cells, which are frozen and stored while they complete treatment and prepare for transplant. In most cases, there is a two- to three-week gap between the patient’s stem cell collection and transplant.
Several other patients have been identified for transplant and will complete the procedure over the next few months.
Once Dr. Tse arrived, plans for assembling the new program began in earnest. He recruited hematologist/oncologist Tamila L. Kindwall-Keller, DO. The two physicians first met in the early 2000s while working together on the transplant team of another hospital system.
For some time, MetroHealth has been thinking outside the box, figuring out how it can best leverage existing resources to help patients needing a transplant.
“As a transplant community, we are not getting these services to everyone who needs them,” Dr. Kindwall-Keller said. “A lot of centers don’t have the additional resources that our patients need. We do.”
Locally and nationally, a disproportionate number of transplant patients are white and/or belong to a higher socioeconomic status.
“We want to democratize access to cutting-edge treatment for our underserved population,” Dr. Tse said. “We’d like MetroHealth to be a center where we can provide the whole gamut of treatment for blood cancers.”
Dr. Tse and Dr. Kindwall-Keller credit not only MetroHealth leadership for providing unwavering support and resources – including creating additional staff positions and bringing in new technology – but also the System as a whole.
“Transplant touches every department, and there has been an openness and willingness of everybody to take this on. It truly takes a village to do stem cell transplant; every person at MetroHealth has a role in our success,” said Dr. Kindwall-Keller, giving special mention to Cancer Center staff, inpatient oncology nurses, the ICU staff, interventional radiologists and the Department of Pathology. “This is not an easy lift.”
Until its own clinical cell therapy lab fully opens, MetroHealth is partnering with the American Red Cross to perform stem cell collection and processing.
MetroHealth will apply for accreditation through the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy once five successful autologous transplants are completed. Dr. Kindwall-Keller said she anticipates the timing of that to be toward the end of the year.
“There is a lot of interest from leaders in the transplant community in what we’re doing,” Dr. Kindwall-Keller said. “I want MetroHealth to lead the way and show other blood and marrow transplant programs how to expand access to transplant for the underserved and underrepresented communities.”
Founded in 1837, MetroHealth is leading the way to a healthier you and a healthier community through service, teaching, discovery, and teamwork. Cuyahoga County’s public, safety-net hospital system, MetroHealth meets people where they are, providing care through four hospitals, four emergency departments, and more than 20 health centers and 40 additional sites. Each day, our 8,000 employees focus on providing our community with equitable health care–through patient-focused research, access to care, and support services–that seeks to eradicate health disparities rooted in systematic barriers. For more information, visit metrohealth.org.