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New Sickle Cell Treatment Tried

December 12, 1998

ATLANTA (AP) _ A 12-year-old boy suffering from sickle cell anemia had unprecedented surgery to replace his bone marrow with stem cells transplanted from an unrelated newborn’s umbilical cord, doctors said.

``We hope there is a 50-50 chance that this cord blood transplant will cure″ the boy’s disease, said Dr. Andrew Yeager, director of pediatric hematology, oncology and bone marrow transplant at Emory University.

The procedure performed Friday is believed to be the first time unrelated cord blood has been used specifically to treat sickle cell, an inherited, crippling, and sometimes lethal disease prevalent among blacks. Unrelated cord blood has been used to treat other blood diseases such as leukemia and other cancers.

Doctors should know within two to four weeks whether the stem cells taken from the cord are producing an adequate blood for the boy, Keone Penn of Snellville.

Keone will undergo transfusions to keep normal blood cells working within his body until the stem cells have enough time to start growing new bone marrow.

He will then require weekly outpatient visits so that doctors can monitor his blood count, but it will be at least a year before they know whether Keone has been cured of sickle cell.

``This will be just one patient but if this is cured with little side effect it will certainly make cord blood transplant a more attractive option where other people will follow suit as well,″ said Dr. John Wagner, director of the International Cord Blood Transplant Registry at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine.

About 1 1/2 years ago, a 19-year-old male in Virginia was treated with an unrelated donor for both leukemia and sickle cell, Wagner said. The cord blood eliminated the sickle cell but was not completely effective in curing his leukemia, Wagner said.

Unlike bone marrow transplants, patients can receive cord blood transplants from donors whose tissue types are not closely matched therefore making it easier to find a donor match.

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