Chicago woman cured of sickle cell disease

June 19, 2012, University of Illinois at Chicago

(Medical Xpress) -- Chicagoan Ieshea Thomas is the first Midwest patient to receive a successful stem cell transplant to cure her sickle cell disease without chemotherapy in preparation for the transplant.

University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System physicians performed the procedure using medication to suppress her immune system and one small dose of total body radiation right before the transplant.

The transplant technique is relatively uncommon and is a much more tolerable treatment for patients with aggressive who often have underlying organ disease and other complications, says Dr. Damiano Rondelli, professor of medicine at UIC, who performed Thomas's transplant.

The procedure initially allows a patient's own bone marrow to coexist with that of the donor. Since the patient's bone marrow is not completely destroyed by or radiation prior to transplant, part of the immune defense survives, lessening the risk of infection. The goal is for the transplanted to gradually take over the bone marrow’s role to produce red blood cells -- normal, healthy ones.

Thomas, 33, had her first sickle cell crisis when she was just 8 months old. Her disease became progressively worse as an adult, particularly after the birth of her daughter. She has spent most of her adult life in and out of hospitals with severe pain and has relied on repeated red blood cell transfusions. Her sickle cell disease also caused bone damage requiring two hip replacements.

"I just want to be at home with my daughter every day and every night," said Thomas, who depends on family to help care for her daughter during her frequent hospitalizations.

This type of is only possible for patients who have a healthy sibling who is a compatible donor.

Thomas' sister was a match and agreed to donate blood stem cells through a process called leukapheresis. Several days prior to leukapheresis, Thomas' sister was given drugs to increase the number of stem cells released into the bloodstream. Her blood was then processed through a machine that collects white cells, including stem cells. The stem cells were frozen until the transplant.

Last Nov. 23, four bags of frozen stem cells were delivered to the hospital's blood and marrow transplant unit. One by one, the bags were thawed and hung on an IV pole for infusion into Thomas. The procedure took approximately one hour. Her 13-year-old daughter, Miayatha, was at her bedside.

Six months after the transplant, Thomas is cured of sickle cell disease and no longer requires blood transfusions.

"The donor cells have taken over completely, and blood tests show no sickle cell disease," said Rondelli, director of the blood and marrow transplant program at UI Hospital. Thomas continues to take medication to prevent rejection of the donor stem cells.

About 25 adults have received a similar chemotherapy-free stem cell transplant for sickle cell disease in recent years at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. Approximately 85 percent have been cured.

"Sickle cell disease is devastating -- both emotionally and physically," said Dr. Dennis Levinson, a private rheumatologist in Chicago and clinical associate professor of medicine at UIC, who has taken care of Thomas for the past 16 years. "I've been terribly frustrated with Ieshea's disease over the years, and I've cared for many other sickle cell patients who have died."

Levinson says the stem cell transplant provides new hope for patients who often live day-to-day on painkillers and who are often misunderstood by clinicians. As the former chief of medicine at the now closed Michael Reese Hospital, he said he has cared for many patients with sickle cell anemia and was determined to seek out the best treatment option for Thomas.

Sickle cell disease primarily affects people of African descent. It is an inherited defect of the red blood cells that causes them to be shaped like a crescent, or sickle. These abnormal cells deliver less oxygen to the body's tissues and can result in severe pain, stroke and organ damage.

Approximately one in every 500 African Americans born in the U.S. has sickle cell disease. The disease affects 80,000 Americans of different ethnic backgrounds.

Explore further: Bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant survival rates equal, when donor is unrelated to patient

Related Stories

Bone marrow and blood stem cell transplant survival rates equal, when donor is unrelated to patient

December 12, 2011
Patients who receive a blood stem cell transplant from a donor outside of their family to treat leukemia and other blood diseases are more likely to have graft failure but less likely to experience graft-versus-host disease, ...

New half-match bone marrow transplant procedure yields promising outcomes for cancer patients

September 1, 2011
Half-matched bone marrow or stem cell transplants for blood cancer patients have typically been associated with disappointing clinical outcomes. However, a clinical trial conducted at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson ...

Correcting sickle cell disease with stem cells

September 28, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Using a patient’s own stem cells, researchers at Johns Hopkins have corrected the genetic alteration that causes sickle cell disease (SCD), a painful, disabling inherited blood disorder that affects ...

Recommended for you

Lab-on-a-chip delivers critical immunity data for vulnerable populations

April 25, 2018
For millions of displaced people around the world—many of them refugees, living in temporary shelters under crowded conditions—an outbreak of disease is devastating. Each year, the measles virus kills more than 134,000 ...

Want new medicines? You need fundamental research

April 25, 2018
Would we be wise to prioritize "shovel-ready" science over curiosity-driven, fundamental research programs? Would that set the stage for the discovery of more new medicines over the long term?

Implantable islet cells come with their own oxygen supply

April 25, 2018
Since the 1960s, researchers have been interested in the possibility of treating type 1 diabetes by transplanting islet cells—the pancreatic cells that are responsible for producing insulin when blood glucose concentration ...

'Incompatible' donor stem cells cure adult sickle cell patients

April 25, 2018
Doctors at the University of Illinois Hospital have cured seven adult patients of sickle cell disease, an inherited blood disorder primarily affecting the black community, using stem cells from donors previously thought to ...

Mammary stem cells challenge costly bovine disease

April 24, 2018
Mastitis is the most expensive disease in the dairy industry. Each clinical case can cost a dairy farmer more than $400 and damages both the cow's future output as well as her comfort.

Research explains link between exercise and appetite loss

April 24, 2018
Ever wonder why intense exercise temporarily curbs your appetite? In research described in today's issue of PLOS Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine researchers reveal that the answer is all in your head—more specifically, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.