Race against time: Cancer-stricken Sarah Jean, 20, top and above, at an Abu Dhabi hospital. Through BMDW she has found a match and is set to fly to Sweden for a bone marrow transplant Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: Bouyed by the success of an international registry which can be accessed by an Abu Dhabi-based centre, UAE authorities are considering their own bone marrow transplant facility (BMT), XPRESS can exclusively reveal.

Currently, patients needing BMT are referred to transplant centres in India, Singapore, the US or Europe.

“We are thinking of establishing one. It’s under consideration,” said Dr Amin Al Amiri, Assistant Undersecretary for Medical Practice and License and chairman of the Supreme National Blood Transfusion Committee-UAE.

He said patients here can search from millions of volunteer donors found in the Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (BMDW), of which the UAE is a member.

The European Group of Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) formed the registry in 1988, with 155,000 volunteer stem cell donors collected. Today, it has gathered data for 21.7 million donors and 579,517 cord blood units worldwide.

A bone marrow transplant can greatly help the chances of patients who suffer from thalassaemia, an inherited blood disorder common in the UAE, and leukaemia as it helps regenerate bone marrow destroyed by chemotherapy or which is not working properly.

Sarah Jean, 20, a leukemia patient in Abu Dhabi, found her US-based donor through the BMDW network.

In 2008, the UAE became the first Arab country to sign up with BMDW. Since then, 11 patients from the UAE have found a matching donor through it, said Dr Al Amiri.

“These were the patients connected with donors and had a successful BMT procedure.” For patients searching for a bone-marrow transplant, the search can be “within five minutes,” he said.

Despite the speed, said Dr Al Amiri, the main challenge is to find a match from totally unrelated donors. “It’s not a matter of numbers – the main challenge is to find a matching donor.”

Dr Al Amiri said the best way to get a matched donor is from a family member.

“The closest match would be a first-degree relative, then second-degree, then among the same genetic community.”

Dr Al Amiri declined to give a timetable for putting up a BMT centre in the UAE.

“We have to leave it to those experts for now, those who have done it for the last 20 years with a good success rate, and they can help our patients more.”

However, he said that the UAE is also looking into developing its own BMT expertise.

“The UAE is the only Arab country that is a member of the BMDW registry, and this gives our patients a better chance when they do find a matching donor from somewhere around the world.”

One in 12 persons in the UAE is a carrier of thalassaemia or sickle cell anaemia. Recent statistics also show that leukaemia is one of the country’s 10 most common malignancies.

BMT can treat

  • A. Cancers -- such as leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma
  • B. Aplastic anemia
  • C. Congenital neutropenia
  • D. Severe immunodeficieny syndromes
  • E. Sickle cell anaemia
  • F. Thalassaemia