The efficacy of immunomagnetic beads to purge human myeloma cells from bone marrow ex vivo was evaluated. The optimal conditions for purging were studied first by using three myeloma cell lines: RPMI-8226, SKO-007, and SKMM-2. Myeloma cells labeled with the vital fluorescent dye Hoechst 33342 were admixed with normal bone marrow cells, and two monoclonal antibodies reactive with the myeloma cells (PCA-1 and BL-3) were added alone or in combination with the cells. Magnetic beads coated with goat antimouse immunoglobulin G were then added, and the tumor cells to which beads were attached were separated from the mixture with a magnet. The efficacy of tumor cell removal was dependent on the bead-to-tumor ratio; a ratio of more than 500 was optimal in the presence of excess normal marrow cells. The combination of monoclonal antibodies PCA-1 and BL-3 increased the tumor cell removal as compared with either antibody alone. Two cycles of treatment were more effective than one cycle was. Under optimal conditions, 2.3 to 4 logs of tumor cells could be removed from the mixture containing 10% myeloma cells without a significant loss of normal hematopoietic progenitors as measured by CFU-GM, CFU-GEM, and BFU-E. When the efficacy of this procedure was tested on fresh bone marrow from patients with multiple myeloma (MM) by using the combination of PCA-1, BL-3, and J-5, 1.6 to 2.5 logs of tumor cells could be removed by one cycle of treatment, even from marrows containing less than 10% myeloma cells. These observations support the use of monoclonal antibody combinations and immunobeads as a reliable and nontoxic method to eliminate contaminating myeloma cells ex vivo in preparation for autologous bone marrow transplantation in patients with MM.