Doctors at Tom Baker Cancer Centre have announced that a Canadian woman has been cured of sickle cell anemia five months after undergoing a stem cell transplant. 26-year-old Revée Agyepong of Edmonton, Alberta had suffered from the blood disorder for her entire life until her older sister donated her own stem cells to help with the cure.
Agyepong was first diagnosed with sickle cell anemia when she was a small child. A genetic disorder, sickle cell anemia occurs when an individual inherits a gene that negatively affects red blood cells, making it difficult for the body to transport oxygen. As a result of the disease, Agyepong was in constant pain and sometimes had trouble breathing. The effects of the disorder also caused her heart to beat arrhythmically and required her to constantly drink water, complicating her work as a neonatal nurse.
After reading about successful cures in pediatric patients, Agyepong and her older sister Stephanie Amoah approached doctors at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre to see if they would be willing to perform the procedure for an adult. Dr. Andrew Daly, director of the Alberta Bone Marrow Transplant Program, agreed to take charge of the transplant. Amoah proved to be a perfect donor match for her sister and had not inherited the sickle cell gene.
Physicians used hematopoietic stem cells from Amoah’s bone marrow to jump-start the production of new red blood cells in her younger sister. They carefully monitored her post-transplant to ensure that her body would not reject the donor cells. By April 2018, tests showed that the abnormal hemoglobin were almost entirely eliminated from her bloodstream.
Agyepong’s transplant is the first successful sickle cell cure performed on an adult in Canada. The stem cell transplant cure was developed by doctors at the National Institutes of Health in Bethseda, Maryland. Doctors began performing the procedure on patients in 2004 and experienced an 87% success rate.