Stem cell transplant: Could this be the cure for cancer?

BY DR NEIL PERSADSINGH

Monday, April 30, 2018

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THE future of medicine is here and it works.

Last week I saw a patient who had developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes. He had received treatment here and had done well, but he migrated to the USA. In November of 2015 he suffered a relapse of his cancer and he was offered a stem cell transplant to cure his cancer. The process was not pleasant, but it was bearable.

After numerous examinations and three months of chemotherapy to reduce the cancer cells to the minimum, along with minor operations to resolve other medical issues which could cause infection post transplant, he was admitted to the hospital.

He was hooked up to a machine that is similar to a dialysis machine, which harvested the stem cells from his blood over a 12-hour period, then returned his blood, without the stem cells, to his body.

The stem cells were then counted. The doctors needed at least 20 million stem cells for the procedure to continue. Had he not produced this many cells, he would be asked to undergo another harvesting session the following day. If he still failed to make the 20 million stem cells, the procedure would have been discontinued and he would be offered stem cells from a donor.

The stem cells were then frozen in a special medium awaiting return to his body. He was allowed a few days to recover and then he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and given an intensive session of anti-cancer chemotherapy over the next three days

This was so intense that it would kill all the cancer cells in his body, along with all the white blood cells and the cells concerned with his immunity.

He was then given an antidote to the anti-cancer drugs, essentially neutralising the action of the chemotherapy.

The harvested stem cells were then transfused into his body via an IV line in his chest. After a few days his stem cells had recovered and had started to produce new stem cells, and white and red blood cells.

He was essentially cured of his cancer, but he had no immunity. In fact, even the immunity he had inherited from his mother at birth had been destroyed. Had he been forced to use a donor's stem cells, his immune system would have rebooted with the donor's blood type.

In the following two years, he remained semi-isolated. Additionally, he had to be vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps, whooping cough, diphtheria, small pox, chicken pox, etc.

After the course of vaccinations he was then allowed to travel, cured of his lymphoma and with a strong immune system.

The H Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute where this procedure was developed has successfully carried out over 5,000 of this type of transplant. This is the future of medicine and we should start thinking about how we will be able to offer this sort of treatment to our cancer patients in Jamaica and the Caribbean region.

Dr Neil Persadsingh, a dermatologist, is located at 6 Caledonia Ave, Kingston 5. Contact him at 960-2797.

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