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The Ugandan child underwent successful bone marrow transplant at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: Abu Dhabi recently saw the UAE’s first case of donor bone marrow transplantation when a five-year-old girl from Uganda underwent a bone marrow transplantation with bone marrow donated by her ten-year-old sister.

The procedure was conducted at the Burjeel Medical City to assist the transplant recipient, who was suffering from sickle cell disease since birth. In a statement, the hospital said the patient was responding well to treatment and would be discharged after a five-week hospital stay.

Sickle cell disease

Prior to the treatment, the five-year-old patient used to be frequently admitted to hospital due to complications arising from her disease. Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder that results in an abnormality in the haemoglobin found in the red blood cells, causing them to become sickle-shaped and leading to a number of complications including anaemia, swelling in the hands and feet, frequent pain, acute chest syndrome and sometimes even stroke.

“The only curative option for this life-threatening condition is bone marrow transplantation. The child’s parents are delighted that the transplant will relieve this pain for her life,” said Dr Zainul Aabideen, head of the department of paediatric haematology and oncology at the hospital.

Stem cell transplant

Allogeneic stem cell transplant involves transferring healthy blood stem cells from a donor to replace a patient’s diseased or damaged cells in the bone marrow. The highly complex and specialised procedure requires collecting stem cells from the donor’s blood, bone marrow from within a donor’s hipbone, or blood of a donated umbilical cord, before transferring to the patient. The patient must also have undergone an intense series of chemotherapy or radiation — also known as the conditioning process — to fully kill their diseased cells and prepare the body to receive the healthy donor stem cells. Once infused into the bloodstream, the donor cells begin creating new healthy blood cells within the patient’s bone marrow. The treatment is followed by several weeks of close medical care and attention, as well as blood test checkups to monitor the body’s response to the new cells.

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Doctors at Burjeel Medical City in Abu Dhabi who successfully conducted the bone marrow transplant. Image Credit: Supplied

Other patients

Burjeel Medical City is currently performing bone marrow transplantation for another child from Iraq, suffering from thalassaemia major, a severe blood disease in children require regular blood transfusion and very expensive medication for the duration of their lives. The only curative treatment for this life-limiting chronic disease is also bone marrow transplantation. Other diseases for which the treatment can provide a cure include leukaemia, immunodeficiency diseases, haemoglobinopathies, hodgkin’s lymphoma, plasma cell disorders and myeloma.

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The medical team at Burjeel Medical City along with the Ugandan patient and her family members. Image Credit: Supplied

Trained staff

“Burjeel Medical City has placed extreme importance on enlisting the correct nursing care for the procedures, recruiting those who are experienced in bone marrow transplantation in children. A team of highly specialised doctors, including a paediatric intensive care team, was also pivotal to the success of the procedure, demonstrating the commitment to improve the health care of children in the UAE by offering such advanced bone marrow transplant treatment methods,” the hospital said in a statement.

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‘Offering hope’

“It has been a very challenging job setting up the bone marrow transplant unit for the first time in this country, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the commitment of our team has allowed us to set up the first and most comprehensive bone marrow transplant unit. Previously, our patients needed to travel abroad for this highly specialised treatment. The recent success of the stem cell transplants at our institution will offer hope to many patients who will now benefit from similar care,” said Dr Humaid Alshamsi, director of Oncology at the hospital’s parent company, VPS Healthcare.

The hospital also plans to further expand its bone marrow transplant capabilities across the region in the near future.