Blood and Marrow Transplant

Stem cells hold the promise of treatments and cures for more than 70 major diseases.

Dating back to the world’s first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968, the University of Minnesota Medical School has been, and continues to be, a leader in stem cell research and regenerative medicine—a field of innovative therapies that enable the body to heal itself.

Now with new discoveries being made, we’re working on cures for everything from diabetes to dementia. 

The Medical School’s blood and marrow transplant research has a legacy of changing perspectives around what is medically possible for children battling some of the world’s most complex, life-threatening diseases. Beyond the first successful bone marrow transplant (BMT) in the world, the Medical School has a history of firsts, including:

  • The first transplant to treat a patient with lymphoma (1975)
  • The first transplant to treat an inherited metabolic disease (1982)
  • The first double umbilical cord blood transplant (1999)
  • The first umbilical cord blood transplant performed using pre-implantation genetic testing to ensure a perfect tissue match (2000)

View more BMT milestones

Eradicating epidermolysis bullosa

Epidermolysis bullosa (EB) is an often life-threatening skin disease found primarily in children. Children with EB face infections and debilitating pain. Skin often must be bandaged to reduce damage and prevent infection. Medical School faculty began the first and only program in the world that offers blood and marrow transplant as a treatment for the most severe types of EB.

While past treatment focused on topical therapy, similar to what is done for burn patients, our doctors were the first to explore BMT as an option for patients with severe EB. The first child to receive BMT for EB took place at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s hospital in 2007. Since then, we have provided transplant as a therapy option to about five patients each year. And we are exploring genomic mapping techniques that might allow us to fix a child’s DNA before birth.


Changing lives

"What we want to do…is to be the first to break through a new therapy that will change people’s lives [and] that ultimately will be the standard of care for every other center years to come.”
—John Wagner, Jr., MD

John E. Wagner, Jr., MD, hopes the research conducted by his team will change people’s lives.

Wagner specializes in research and treatment of children with cancer. He leads the University of Minnesota’s Cord Blood Transplantation Program in the treatment of adults and children and is responsible for its international prominence, having first pioneered its use in 1990 in leukemia. Wagner also specializes in Fanconi anemia and the use of stem cells in epidermolysis bullosa.

Recently, Wagner has begun research on the development of novel stem cell and immune-based therapies derived from cord blood, including:

  • The isolation and expansion of hematopoietic stem cells to reduce the time of blood and marrow recovery
  • Regulatory T cells to control graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)
  • Thymic progenitor cells to enhance immune recovery and reduce the risk of relapse and infections after transplantation.


BMT research across the U

Our clinical center for care, noted for exceptional and innovative blood and marrow transplantation, research, and education. John Wagner, Jr., MD, directs this center.

Committed to providing the highest quality care based on cutting edge research to patients with cancer or non-malignant hematologic diseases such as sickle cell disease. Dedicated to advancing research on the biological underpinnings of cancer, stem cell biology, sickle cell anemia, endothelial cell biology, and tumor immunology. Over 50 full-time academic investigators involved in interdisciplinary research and patient care are devoted to training the next generation of academic leaders.

Our clinical program is recognized as the second largest unrelated donor transplant programs in the country, and  one of the largest umbilical cord blood transplant centers worldwide.

As the first such institute in the nation, our Stem Cell Institute is a national leader in the field of stem cell research. Researchers and faculty explore the science of stem cell biology, respond to the medical needs of today, and educate the researchers of tomorrow.

Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics enables the translation of novel, experimental research into medicine for use in human clinical trials. Their technical, development, regulatory, and quality expertise ensure that all FDA requirements are satisfied and products are delivered to the patient in the shortest possible time.

Made up of 41 members representing five departments and three schools within the University of Minnesota's Academic Health Center.  Members of this program seek to reduce or eliminate factors limiting hematopoietic stem cell transplantation, such as regimen-related toxicities, graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), and delayed reconstitution of immunity.

Learn more about the University’s work in blood and marrow transplantation across the health sciences.

blood cells

Recent publications

  • Tolar J, Tolar M. 2015. A living band-aid for epidermolysis bullosa. Blood Transfusion 13(1):1-2.
  • Wagner JE, Jr., Eapen M, Kurtzberg J. 2015. One-unit versus two-unit cord-blood transplantation. The New England Journal of Medicine 372(3):288.
  • MacMillan ML,  Robin M,  Harris AC,  DeFor TE,  Martin PJ,  Alousi A,  Ho VT,  Bolaños-Meade J,  Ferrara JLM,  Jones R, et al. 2015. A refined risk score for acute graft-versus-host disease that predicts response to initial therapy, survival, and transplant-related mortality. Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation 21(4)761-767.

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