Scientists and researchers have developed a new technique that can cure adults with sickle cell anemia – without having to undergo intense chemotherapy prior to the procedure.The results of the clinical trials at the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Science Systems (“UI Health”) resulted in the curing of 92% of patients with the disease.
Presently, around 90% of the 450 patients who receive stem cell transplants for sickle cell disease are children. Now, treating adults may be more common.
Dr. Damiano Rondelli, chief of hematology/oncology at UI Health stated that, “Adults with sickle cell disease are now living on average until age 50 with blood transfusions and drugs to help with pain crises, but their quality of life can be very low. Now, with this chemotherapy-free transplant, we are curing adults with sickle cell disease, and we see that their quality of life improves vastly within just one month of the transplant. They are able to go back to school, go back to work, and can experience life without pain.”
Sickle cell disease is inherited by genetics. It primarily targets people of African descent. In fact, one in every 500 African Americans born in the United States have sickle cell disease. The condition causes oxygen-carrying red blood cells to bend and appear like a sickle. The crescent-shaped cells deliver less oxygen to a person’s tissues, causing severe pain and eventually organ damage and/or stroke.
Up until now, few adults were transplanted with bone marrow, which can cure the disease, because a high dose of chemotherapy was needed to kill off the patient’s blood-forming cells and essentially his or her entire immune system, to prevent rejection of the transplanted cells.
However, in the new procedure, patients receive immunosuppressive drugs prior to the transplant, in addition to a very low dose of radiation. Donor cells from healthy (tissue-matching) siblings are then transfused into the patient. The stem cells from the healthy donor produce new blood cells in the patient and eventually produce enough to eliminate the symptoms of sickle cell disease.
The new technique brings hope to many adults who suffer from the disease.