Health Beat: Stem cells to cure sickle cell

Health Beat: Stem cells to cure sickle cell

ST. LOUIS - Sickle cell is a serious disease that causes pain, anemia, infection, organ damage and even stroke. It's the most common inherited blood disorder in the United States.

The good news is bone marrow transplants can be a cure. The bad news is not every patient has a matching donor. Now, researchers are looking at a new way to offer more patients transplants.

Madisyn Travis is like any other 9-year-old, but there's something that sets Madisyn apart. She has sickle cell, an inherited red blood cell disease.

"It makes me feel bad, and sometimes I have to go to the hospital," Madisyn said.

"It's really hard to see her life interrupted," said Denise Travis, Madisyn's mom.

Soon, however, Madisyn will get a bone marrow transplant to cure her disease. Her little brother or sister are both matches, and one will be the donor.

Madisyn is one of the lucky ones. Only 14 percent of patients have a matching sibling.

"Ten years ago, we'd just tell them, 'Sorry, you have no family member. We can't transplant you,'" said Dr. Shalini Shenoy, professor of pediatrics and medical director, pediatric stem cell transplant program, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis Children's Hospital.

Shenoy is studying a new option for patients without related donors. Stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord can be infused in the arm. They travel to the bone marrow, settle there and make new cells.

"Now, with this, we can take another 30 percent or 40 percent to transplant," Shenoy said.

Madisyn is excited about a cure, and even though they annoy her at times, she'll have her brother and sister to thank for it.

Sickle cell is more common in minorities, occurring in about one in every 500 African Americans and about one in every 1,000 Hispanic Americans.

So far, just three patients have been treated with the umbilical cord blood transplant using unrelated donor cord blood. Ten research centers across the country are participating in Shenoy's study.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Shalini Shenoy about stem cells being used to cure sickle cell disease

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