Quan Zhao, MD, from the Department of Pediatric Bone Marrow Transplant and his team performed the first successful bone marrow transplant to cure sickle cell disease in a patient at the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital.
The female patient half-matched with her father and underwent a haploidentical transplant. Over the span of 28 days, she was treated with chemotherapy to eliminate the sickle cell and create bone marrow space for donor cells. Since the procedure, she has been cured of sickle cell disease, which is typically a lifelong debilitating illness. Her current bone marrow is made of 100 percent donor cells, and she no longer requires the blood transfusions or costly medications typical of sickle cell treatment.
“This [success] has far reaching implications for Loma Linda Hospital and the Inland Empire,” Dr. Zhao said.
In 1984, the cure for sickle cell disease was inadvertently discovered in a patient that received a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Physicians discovered that the transplant also eliminated sickle cell disease in the patient. By 2000, patients receiving a match sibling donor transplant experienced a 92 percent cure rate. Medical advances have since made bone marrow transplants possible between unrelated donors, umbilical cord blood, and even half-match family donors called haploidentical.
Dr. Zhao entered this field because his child had leukemia. He says he understands the pain chronic disease causes families. He hopes that more parents will take advantage of this procedure when the patient is young because bone marrow transplants cannot reverse damage already caused by progression of the disease.
“I am hopeful and optimistic about the future of sickle cell disease treatment in the Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital,” he said.