Apollo Hospitals score high with bone marrow transplant for thalassemia patients

Advanced stem cell therapy has high success rate in thalassemia free survival 

Dubai, UAE, August 23rd, 2015: Thalassemia, the most common among genetic blood disorders worldwide and highly prevalent among GCC states particularly, is nowadays being tackled more effectively with the latest advances in transplant surgery and medications, according to a specialist at Apollo Hospitals, Asia’s foremost healthcare provider.


Dr Revathi Raj, Paediatric Haematologist at Apollo Hospitals in Chennai, India, says transplanting bone marrow stem cells is enabling thalassemia patients to minimise the risks and related to their disease and enjoy better quality of life. Apollo Hospitals have performed more than 800 stem cell transplants – over a quarter of them being for thalassaemia – with over 90% success rate.

Thalassaemia is an inherited blood disorder that impairs an individual’s ability to produce red blood cells and haemoglobin, which carries oxygen from the respiratory organs to the rest of the body. Insufficient haemoglobin leads to anaemia, fatigue and frequent infections and patients often require lifelong blood transfusions. However, frequent transfusions may lead to an iron overload in the patient’s blood, which can lead to permanent damage of vital body organs.
Consanguineous marriages, or marriages between closer cousins, is a major thalassemia risk cited as the main reason for the high incidence of the disease among Gulf Arab communities. Health officials in the UAE have often been quoted as saying that one in 12 people in the country is a thalassemia carrier but campaigns focusing on awareness and antenatal screening have helped reduce newborn incidents.

“Awareness and family support remain the most important preventive measures against thalassemia but advanced treatment systems are also available for those already suffering from the disease. Thalassemia major patients can have stem cells transplanted in their bone marrow to restore the body’s ability to produce the required red blood cells. Up 90 per cent patients, particularly younger children, have reported a thalassemia free survival post transplant,” said Dr Revathi.
A defective gene inherited from both parents lead to thalassemia major while thalassemia minor occurs when the defective gene comes from one parent. People with thalassemia minor often do not show any symptoms but remain carriers of the disease and when both parents have thalassemia trait the chance of their offspring being born with thalassemia major is 25 per cent.

“Bone marrow stem cells produce three types of blood cells – red, white and platelets. The haematopoietic stem cells responsible for producing these blood cells are obtained from a matched but unaffected sibling or unrelated donor and transplanted to the thalassemia patient,” added Dr Revathi.
The success rate of the transplant is particularly high in children less than seven years of age, Dr Revathi said citing the example of a Tanzanian-born boy who underwent the procedure at Apollo Chennai recently. “We weren’t able to find a compatible donor for the boy but a stem cell registry called DATRI in India helped to get the perfect match. It was during this time a new drug was introduced to the market which reduced the risk of toxicity and made the transplantation impeccably safe, and successful.”

Dr Revathi also emphasised the need for encouraging voluntary donors of blood and stem cells to help thalassemia patients manage and overcome the disease. “Marriages between blood relatives should be discouraged and communities more prone to thalassemia should support the efforts of their respective governments and healthcare providers to promote pre-marital and antenatal counselling and screening.”

Apollo Hospitals is a major referral centre for specialised surgeries and receives a large number of patients from all over the world looking for affordable, superior quality medical care along with less waiting time and minimum hospital stay. Over 60,000 foreign patients from across the world, including the UAE, Oman and Qatar, have been successfully treated at the hospital during the last five years and the numbers are looking up every year.

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