OVER five million sickle cell patients in Nigeria and other African countries can now heave a sigh of relief as the University of Ibadan in partnership with the University of Illinois, Chicago, USA and University of Loyola, Chicago have discovered a permanent cure for the terminal disease.
The cure of the deadly disease, according to the Professor of Medicine, Victor Gordeuk, who is the Director, Sickle Cell Centre, University of Illinois, Chicago, USA and his colleagues, Prof. Damiano Rondelli, also from the same university and Prof. Bamidele Tayo, University of Loyola, Chicago this new treatment is done through bone marrow transplant and that it is less risky.
This was revealed yesterday at the University College Hospital, Ibadan after a three-day brainstorming session with other experts in the teaching hospital.
Unlike the other conventional method of stem cell transplant which exposes patients to radiation which could cause cancer, first blood and marrow stem cell transplant, BMT, is much more effective.
The experts who were flanked by the Chief Medical Director, UCH, Prof. Temitope Alonge, Dr. Titilola Akingbola, an haematologist and Dr. Foluke Fasola, said this stem cell transplant is a standard procedure for the treatment of many blood cancers in both adult and children.
He said: “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.
“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.
The CMD, Prof. Alonge who called for support from government, philanthropists, donour agencies and corporate bodies like banks and Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation for provision of equipment and completion of the sickle cell centre, described sickle cell as a disease of bone crisis which the patient suffers from head to toe.
He added that Sickle Cell Disease is a genetic disorder due to the presence of an abnormal form of haemoglobin in the red blood cells, called haemoglobin S (Hb S) instead of haemoglobin A (Hb A). Haemoglobin in the red blood cell is responsible for the transportation of oxygen in the body.