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NEW ORLEANS — Whenever a hematopoietic cell transplant patient tries to get a family member to sneak food in past the nurses, Federico Stella, a resident hematologist at the University of Milan, remembers. One was a girl who tried to get her sister to bring her a panettone, a Milanese sweet bread usually eaten around the holidays. A week before Christmas, the sister tried to hide the panettone in a bag.

“But the nurses opened the bag and, well,” Stella shrugged.


These hematopoietic cell transplants, also known as bone marrow transplants, can offer certain blood cancer patients the chance at a lasting remission but, during the process, the patients are excruciatingly vulnerable to infections. Hospitals try everything they can to protect these patients from pathogens — including putting them on the near-universally hated neutropenic diet that generally overcooks foods to ensure they’re as sterile as can be. But there’s little evidence the diet actually does anything, so Stella and his mentor, Paolo Corradini, decided to put the diet to the test of a randomized trial.

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