By Jumoke and Sharon Parmet, The Herald and University of Illinois News
Doctors at the University of Ibadan in partnership with the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA and University of Loyola, Chicago have discovered a permanent cure for sickle cell anemia.
Sickle cell disease is inherited and primarily affects people of African descent, including about one in every 500 African Americans born in the U.S.
The defect causes the oxygen-carrying red blood cells to be crescent shaped, like a sickle. The misshapen cells deliver less oxygen to the body’s tissues, causing severe pain and eventually stroke or organ damage.
Adults with sickle cell disease are now living on average until about age 50 with blood transfusions and drugs to help with pain crises, but their quality of life can be very low.
Professor of Medicine, Victor Gordeuk, who is the director of the Sickle Cell Center at the University of Illinois, Chicago and his colleagues, Prof. Damiano Rondelli and Prof. Bamidele Tayo at the University of Loyola, Chicago claim the cure is bone marrow transplant.
The transplants were the first to be performed outside of the National Institutes of Health campus in Maryland, where the procedure was developed. Physicians there have treated 30 patients, with an 87 percent success rate.
The experts explained that the stem cell transplant is a standard procedure for the treatment of many blood cancers in both adult and children.
“With this chemotherapy-free transplant, we are curing adults with sickle cell disease, and we see that their quality of life improves fast within just one month of the transplant,” said Dr. Rondelli.
“About 90 per cent of the approximately 450 patients who have received stem cell transplants for sickle cell disease have been children. Chemotherapy has been considered too risky for adult patients, who are often more weakened than children by the disease.
“Adults with sickle cell disease can now be cured without chemotherapy — the main barrier that has stood in the way for them for so long. Our data provide more support that this therapy is safe and effective and prevents patients from living shortened lives, condemned to pain and progressive complications.”
“In the new procedure, patients receive immuno-suppressive drugs just before the transplant, along with a very low dose of total body irradiation, a treatment much less harsh and with fewer potentially serious side effects than chemotherapy.
“Donor cells from a healthy and tissue-matched sibling are transfused into the patient. Stem cells from the donor produce healthy new blood cells in the patient, eventually in sufficient quantity to eliminate symptoms. In many cases, sickle cells can no longer be detected. Patients must continue to take immunosuppressant drugs for at least a year,” said Rondelli.