You may not have heard of Dr Maryam Matar, Founder of the United Arab Emirates (UEA) Genetic Disease Association (GDA), but her achievement in genetic science is quite breathtaking. A pioneer in the field of genetic disorder studies, Dr Matar is also a multi-award winning geneticist and businesswoman; a former Undersecretary to the Emirati Minister of Health and a senior board member of nonprofits such as Dubai Cares and Reach Mentoring. It’s no wonder that Dr Matar jokes that she “wears 11 different hats in one week”.
Sickle Cell Disease
As a geneticist, one of Dr Matar’s main research interests is Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). SCD is one of the most common inherited conditions in the UAE and causes pain crises, infection, chronic progressive organ damage and eventually, stroke. A baby born with sickle cell disease inherits a gene for the disorder from both parents.
Fortunately, there is a cure for SCD. Healthy haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) can ‘teach’ the patient’s body to replace clogging sickle-shaped blood cells with healthy disc-shaped cells that flow easily through the circulatory system, alleviating pain and preventing dangerous blockages.
Umbilical cord blood is arguably the best source of HSCs. Cord blood stem cells are newborn cells so they are young, healthy and pliant. They are more easily matched to patients than bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells; they result in fewer complications and incidents of graft versus host disease, and they can be collected at birth and stored for decades with no negative implications for mother or baby. (Find out more here.)
All mothers should know about cord blood banking
As a geneticist and mother, Dr Matar says, “It’s incredibly important for expectant mothers who have a child with Sickle Cell Anemia to be informed about the ability to save their baby’s cord blood for potential transplant, I always encourage families that are expecting newborns to utilise cord blood banking.”
“A stem cell transplant has the ability to cure the disease, and all mothers should know this.”
Case Study: Hamad’s Story
8-year-old Hamad’s heart-warming story received international attention when his little brother’s cord blood stem cells were used to rid him of the crippling effects of sickle cell anaemia.
A year after his life-saving transplant, doctors have said Hamad is now completely cured and living a happy disease-free life. He can now attend school regularly, play with his friends and look forward to a pain-free future.