Outpatient stem cell transplant: No place like home

Rebecca Zoltowski and Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD

Resting in a lounge chair, Rebecca Zoltoski sat knitting a hat in a private bay on the top floor of the Center for Care and Discovery. An intravenous line delivered chemotherapy, a first step before her stem cell transplant for multiple myeloma.

Days later, the biochemist would be the first patient at the University of Chicago Medicine to undergo a blood and bone marrow stem cell transplant — as an outpatient.

Instead of the typical three- to four-week hospital inpatient stay, Zoltoski spent a few hours in the outpatient unit daily.

"Rebecca was in great shape and had an excellent support system," said her oncologist, Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD, PhD, director of the hospital's myeloma program. "She was a prime candidate for the outpatient treatment." Jakubowiak works closely with the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium to bring the latest treatments to patients.

Instead of the typical three- to four-week hospital inpatient stay, Zoltoski spent a few hours in the outpatient unit daily, where she underwent tests and the infusion of healthy cells to overpower cancer cells. Each afternoon, she went back to her home in La Grange Park where she could have her family around and sleep in her own bed. "I was sick and very weak for a while," said the wife and mother. "But having access to my own food and bed made it better."

Within three months, Zoltoski was back to work.

Spearheaded in 2014 by Michael Bishop, MD, the outpatient blood and bone marrow stem cell transplantation program was designed to provide just this level of comfort and convenience for patients. The program offers patients the full course of treatment (pre-transplant evaluation, conditioning, infusion of their stem cells, engraftment and recovery) on an outpatient basis.

The service is offered to select multiple myeloma and lymphoma patients. Individuals are subject to a thorough screening and evaluated based on their age, ability to perform certain activities and distance from UChicago Medicine. Another requirement is that patients must have a 24/7 caregiver, who can be a relative or friend and does not need to be a trained medical professional.

"Knowing you are going home every day gives patients a psychological advantage," Bishop said. "Only one in four will need to be admitted to the hospital, primarily to care for symptoms of infection."

Outpatient blood and bone marrow stem cell transplantation

Outpatient blood and bone marrow stem cell transplantation offers the full benefits of this life-saving treatment while allowing the patient to spend nights in the comfort of their own home. 

Learn more about our outpatient stem cell transplant program

Michael R. Bishop, MD

Michael R. Bishop, MD, specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of lymphomas and leukemias. He is an expert in stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy, including CAR T-cell therapy, an advanced form of immunotherapy.

Learn more about Dr. Bishop

Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD, PhD

Andrzej Jakubowiak, MD, PhD, is an internationally known expert on multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells in bone marrow. He works closely with the Multiple Myeloma Research Consortium (MMRC) to bring the latest treatments to the patient’s bedside as quickly as possible.

Learn more about Dr. Jakubowiak