Jumua, 11, was born with sickle cell disease. Her parents spent an average of N70, 000 whenever she had any crisis associated with the disease. Her family said they knew no peace and rest ever since her birth, till she underwent stem cell transplant at Cellteck Medical Centre in Benin about two months ago.
Daily Trust gathered not Nigerian Medical that the transplant has changed her genotype from SS to AA and that she now lives a normal life devoid of crisis associated with sickle cell disease.
Sickle cell disease is a genetic disease that affects the haemoglobin (a substance in the red blood cells that combines with and carries oxygen around the body, and gives blood its red colour). The disease is an inheritance of two abnormal haemoglobin genes, one from each parent.
The disease affects the haemoglobin in such a way that there are some genetic changes said Prof Nosakhare Bazuaye, a Consultant Haematologist and stem cell transplantologist at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH),
Prof Bazuaye who is also a collaborating partner at Cellteck Medical Centre, also described stem cell therapy as the use of stem cell from the bone marrow to treat sickle cell disease that eventually changes the genotype of the sufferer from SS to either AA or AS.
He said: “We get stem cell from the bone marrow, it can also be collected from the placenta. The placenta of a new born baby contains stem cell. When stem cells are taken from a donor whose haemoglobin (genotype) is AA or AS, it is transplanted into the bone marrow of the sickle cell patient, and it begins to grow to produce new cells which is haemoglobin AA or AS of the donor.”
Prof Bazuaye said once the stem cell of the donor begins to grow in the patient, the patient will have a complete cure of the disease because the cell of the patient will no longer be producing blood that is SS but AA or AS depending on the donor.
Prof. Bazuaye said the process of the therapy begins from looking for a match donor who is genetically similar to the patent, especially siblings, using human antigen test to see if they have the same genetical make up.
He explained further that “once the donor is identified, the patient is given drugs to destroy the bone marrow and during the period, the patient is kept in an isolation room where the air is filtered to prevent infection because the patient has no immunity or cell as at that time.”
“Then we collect stem cell from the donor’s bone marrow from where blood is manufactured using a needle and collect blood that contain stem cell and transfuse into the patent whose marrow have already been destroyed,” he said.
The stem cell transplantologist said after successful transplant, the patient would be given drugs to pave way for the new cell to grow in his bone marrow, adding that they would continue to take drugs for one year for the cell to grow better and in the end would either be AA or AS depending on the donor.
He said he and other experts have successfully done seven transplants, with three done between 2011 and 2013 at UBTH centre while four were done at Cellteck Medical Centre from December last year to date.
According to him, the treatment costs between N8 and N10 million and they have been able to domesticate the process.
“This is the only transplant centre available in the country and many Nigerians cannot afford it because it is expensive. In Europe and American it costs $200.000 which is equivalent to N60 to N70 million. Half of this money goes for diesel because we need to keep the patient in a room for two to three months where there is no air,” Prof. Bazuaye said.
The expert said Nigerians are yet to fully embrace the method and that half a million suffers are unable to access treatment due to the cost.
He said government should make genotype testing free for all, and mandatory for students entering secondary school so that they would be aware as they grow up, thereby reducing the number of children born with the disease.
“Government should also build an international stem cell transplant centre to help sickle cell patients because one is not enough,” he added