Sickle-Cell Anemia Сan Be Cured by Stem Cells?
A 32-year old Ieshea Thomas, who had suffered from sickle cell anemia since her tender age, has been recently treated with her sister stem cells. After the treatment, her body gained the ability to produce normal-shaped red blood cells instead of defective sickle-shaped ones. She no longer needs to take pain relievers and is very excited with the treatment results.
She received a stem cell transplant in a clinical trial conducted at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System in Chicago. The trial is devoted to estimating efficacy of stem cell treatment in sickle cell anemia.
In the US, sickle cell anemia affects 90,000 to 100,000 people. The disease is caused by a genetic disorder leading to formation of abnormal hemoglobin that is the key element of the red cells. A sickle cell refers to the shape of a red cell. Such cells are not as flexible as their normal analogues. Due to their shape, they get stuck and clog up in small vessels leading to problems in vitally important organs such as liver and kidneys.
The only way to cure sickle cell anemia is to completely replace the blood of a patient. It is expected that the transplanted stem cells will give rise to normal red blood cells, thus addressing the central problem caused by the illness.
In contrast to other clinical trials devoted to sickle cell anemia treatment, this trial did not involve chemotherapy to first kill the patient’s bone marrow to give way for the new healthy one. Ieshea Thomas was the first patient that did not undergo chemotherapy, but instead was treated with an immune suppressant and a small radiation doses. After the stem cell transplantation, she was followed up: initially, every week, then every month, then every three months and more rarely.
By now, the researchers have completed two transplants and prepare to make the third one. The trial is supposed to involve patients aged 18 to 60 years who have eligible donors – their full siblings without sickle cell anemia. It has not been determined yet how many people will participate in the study and how long will it take.