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The Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, which was funded by a $20 mill gift from Herbert and Florence Irving, opened last week.

Thanks to a $20 million gift, patients at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center can now receive bone marrow transplants. 

The gift from Herbert and Florence Irving, longtime donors to the hospitals, will fund the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit, which will feature a wing of 18 inpatient rooms and allow the unit's director, Markus Mapara, to pursue research on two types of stem cell transplantation.

Mapara, the director of the Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program at NewYork-Presbyterian/CUMC and professor of medicine at CUMC, was recruited from the University of Pittsburgh to lead the unit. He said that bone marrow research is important to figure out how to best help those with blood cancers or blood diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

“The creation of the unit was incited by the idea that we can test some of these new principles, while at the same time providing a standard of care and treatment for patients who have not been able to receive that treatment at Columbia,” Mapara said.

Gary Schwartz, the associate director for clinical research at Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and the chief of the Division of Hematology/Oncology within the Department of Medicine, described the new unit as a necessary feature for any cancer center.

“We often had to refer them out of the institution to get the care that we thought we should offer them here,” Schwartz said. “Having a unit like this now provides patients in Northern Manhattan and this part of the city the opportunity to have transplants done here at Columbia.”

Megan Sykes, director of the Columbia Center for Translational Immunology, has worked closely with Mapara and was involved in his recruitment. 

“He was my top choice to lead the program, as he and I share very common goals,” Sykes said. “We have worked on novel approaches over the years to make bone marrow transplant better for the treatment of blood cancers, as well as methods for getting better antitumor effects from the transplant without the toxic side effects that usually comes with it.”

Sykes said that her current research in organ transplantation requires a bone marrow transplant program.

“The goal of building research around our organ transplant program was one of the major reasons that I was recruited here,” she said. “This unit will position us to lead the world in developing organ transplant tolerance protocols that utilize the approaches that we are developing.”

Mapara said the new unit is designed to combat the high susceptibility of patients to infection during bone marrow transplants.

“This unit is completely newly designed, as the air system is highly filtrated so that the patient is only breathing sterile air,” Mapara said.

“We will also have a one-to-one ratio of nurses to patients, and nurses who are highly qualified in delivering this type of care, so it is a very specialized unit that concentrates on patients who are undergoing the transplant process,” he added.

Despite its uptown location, Schwartz said that there are plenty of opportunities for undergraduates to conduct research at the facility, in areas such as immuno-oncology and bone marrow transplantation.

“We encourage undergraduates to work in our laboratories in the cancer center, as these are all parts of the growing area of cancer therapeutics and there is a lot to learn in oncology,” he said. “If there is an undergraduate program specifically to get undergraduates into the program here, I can help make those connections for people interested in this area of drug therapy.”

“It's huge, and I think everyone should be aware of it. It's going to transform cancer therapy as we know it,” Schwartz said. “We'd love for Columbia undergraduates to be a part of it.”  |  @JosieMcGowan

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of one of the donors. Additionally, an earlier version of this story quoted Mapara as saying "distilled air." He said "sterile air." Spectator regrets the errors.

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