KU Blood and Marrow Transplant program growing rapidly

? In 2006, Kansas University Cancer Center staff performed fewer than 50 blood and marrow transplants for patients with blood diseases. By 2012, that number had jumped to 230.

Those figures, the results of an effort by the KU Hospital to expand the Cancer Center’s Blood and Marrow Transplant program rapidly, were among those presented to the KU Hospital Authority Board on Tuesday by the program’s medical director, Joseph McGuirk.

McGuirk, also a professor in the KU School of Medicine, came aboard in 2007 when that growth effort was dawning. Now, he says, the BMT program expects to have a 300-transplant year soon.

“This is unprecedented in the country,” McGuirk said of that rate of growth.

He was presenting in the wake of a record year for the program in 2012.

McGuirk credited the growth to the determination of the hospital to invest money and personnel to bulk up the program.

The Blood and Marrow Transplant program, based at the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion in Westwood, gives transplants to patients with leukemia, lymphoma and other blood diseases of stem cells that can help rebuild their immune systems.

Since 2007, McGuirk said, the program has improved its infrastructure and beefed up its research efforts through clinical trials and lab work.

About 40 percent of its patients last year were part of clinical trials, he said.

After his talk with the hospital board, he said the increase in trials would be “enormous” in the Cancer Center’s effort to achieve comprehensive status from the National Cancer Institute.

And those trials can develop new treatments that could help save lives, he said. About 50 percent of transplant patients still die of blood disease or transplant complications.

“As long as that’s the case, we cannot be sitting on our hands with our current therapies,” McGuirk said.

The program is now one of just 19 National Institutes of Health-designated core centers for blood and marrow transplant clinical trials. And the data on patient outcomes ranks among the top centers in the country, McGuirk said.

“We are a very competitive group,” McGuirk said. “We want to be the very best.”

Also at the hospital board meeting, the board approved a resolution commending staff for keeping the hospital running around the clock during the two major snowstorms that hit the area late last month.

“Many things stop when there’s a snowstorm,” board chairman Robert Honse said, “and instead of stopping you had to go even harder.”

The recognition came after Tammy Peterson, the hospital’s chief operating officer, told the board some stories from the snowstorms.

About 600 patients were in the hospital when the first storm hit, and about 500 were there when the second one came through less than a week later. And cancer patients still needed to come in to the Cancer Center for chemotherapy, marrow transplants and other treatments.

To keep things running, some staff whose cars were stuck just walked to work. One woman trudged more than two miles during the height of the storm, Peterman said.

The staff set up a database of transportation needs, making use of a transportation contractor and several volunteers who drive SUVs to get workers to the hospital on time. About 300 staffers spent the night at the hospital between shifts during the first storm, and about 400 stayed during the second.