Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sharing Stem-Cell Gift from Sibling Is Lifesaver and First in Area

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Sharing Stem-Cell Gift from Sibling Is Lifesaver and First in Area

Article excerpt

Sarah Cable, 4, and her 7-month-old brother, Shawn, seem unlikely pioneers in the frontier of medical technology to fight deadly blood diseases.

But the children are heroes to parents and doctors who saw them playing at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital last week.

Only a month ago, Sarah got a life-saving "cord blood" transplant from her only sibling, Shawn. Cord blood comes from the umbilical cord. It is rich in stem cells - the precursors of all blood cells. They were extracted from Shawn's umbilical cord just after his birth, frozen and stored. After the cells were transplanted in Sarah, they enabled her to grow a new, healthy blood supply and replenished her depleted immune system.

This was the first successful cord blood transplant in the St. Louis area. Diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1993, Sarah was lucky that her parents gave birth to Shawn, who turned out to be a nearly perfect tissue-match for her. Any transplant is more likely to work if it comes from such a closely matched donor.

But less than perfectly matched cord blood donations may also work for children who need stem cell transplants, doctors say. In 10 years or so, they may replace most bone marrow transplants, which have a relatively high rejection rate and are much more expensive, some doctors say.

In the last five years, 120 stem cell transplants have been done in children worldwide. Fewer than 5 percent of the children have rejected their cellular implants, said Dr. Donna A. Wall, Sarah's doctor and director of Cardinal Glennon Hospital's bone marrow program.

Stem cell transplants could benefit at least several thousand children and adults a year, experts say.

The vast majority of stem cell transplants have been done in children because adults need more cells than children. But more adults will probably get them as techniques to stimulate growth of banked stem cells are developed, Wall says.

Before the advent of stem cell transplants in 1990, bone marrow transplants offered the only chance of cure for many children with leukemia and aplastic anemia. But one in five children reject bone marrow transplants, which also require months of intensive hospital care.

Children who get stem cell transplants are hospitalized for only a few weeks.

"Sarah's outlook is wonderful," said Wall. On Friday, a month after her transplant, Sarah frolicked in the back yard of her home in Belleville. She and Shawn splashed each other in their wading pool.

For the first time in two years, Sarah and her parents felt free. No more weekly trips to St. Louis for blood transfusions and treatment.

Ever since Sarah's diagnosis of aplastic anemia in June 1993, she received weekly transfusions and intravenous treatment with an immune system stimulant. Her only chance for a cure was a transplant. The First Gift

When Shawn was born on Jan. 6, the obstetrician saved the umbilical cord. …

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