Researchers at the Alberta Children’s Hospital say they are making excellent progress with a revolutionary procedure that is curing children of sickle cell anemia.
Officials say seven girls and two boys have been cured of the genetic blood disorder through the technique.
The method involves first destroying the existing blood system and then replacing it with a new system made from the transplanted stem cells of a family member who is an immune match.
It’s similar to the procedure used in cancer patients as a treatment alternative to chemotherapy.
Doctors say that there is no one else using this procedure on children with sickle cell anemia in the world.
“We’re getting phone calls and emails from around the world from interested parents and other doctors. We think we’re ahead of the curve in offering this curative therapy as a standard of care,” said Dr. Greg Guilcher, who is leading the program and is also an assistant professor in the departments of Oncology and Pediatrics at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine.
Sickle cell anemia is a chronic illness that ends up blocking blood vessels. Every organ is at risk of the disorder and it can result in strokes, lung disease, heart strain and damage to the spleen and bones.
Life expectancy for sufferers is 55 to 60 years old.
Cardelia Fox, 19, underwent the stem cell procedure two years ago.
Before that, she was in and out of hospitals for much of her life and needed blood transfusions on a monthly basis to save her life.
Her older sister Tamika happened to be a full match, which has only a one in five chance of occurring.
Fox says she takes solace with the fact that she will not suffer the same fate as her grandmother, who died from complications of the disease when she was just 35.
Dr. Guilcher says he expects to see steady growth in interest in the stem cell transplant procedure, which was first performed in Calgary in 2009.
Significant advances in stem cell and bone marrow transplantation at the Alberta Children’s Hospital have been supported by generous community donations through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.
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