What Is Sickle Cell Anemia? Stem Cell Transplant Cures Canadian Woman

A 26-year-old woman from Canada, who was suffering from sickle cell anemia for the last seven years, was cured after undergoing a stem cell transplant. Health officials believe Revée Agyepong is the first adult in Canada to be cured of the disease through this method.

Agyepong, who lives in the city of Edmonton, received the donor stem cells from her sister. The procedure took place at Calgary’s Tom Baker Cancer Centre last November. The news of her being free of the disease came out Tuesday.

The 26-year-old was born with sickle cell anemia, a hereditary disease that affects the red blood cells that change them into a sickle shape and block blood vessels, which causes severe pain, a risk of stroke and organ failure. The main symptoms of sickle cell disease include pain, fatigue, arthritis, high susceptibility to bacterial infections and anemia. A faulty gene that hampers the development red blood cells usually causes the disease.

“People with sickle-cell disease will often survive into their 40s or 50s,” Agyepong said, according to local reports.

Earlier, stem cell transplant were used to treat children with the disease but doctors feared in an adult as the complications increase, the procedure could do harm.

“I was just excited to know we would get the HLA testing which is the compatibility testing,” Agyepong recalled about the time she learnt her sister was a perfect match for the transplant and was also free of the disease. “We hoped for the best, crossed our fingers, and then, on her birthday – which is crazy, we got the best news ever; that she was a ten-out-of-ten match.”

On Tuesday, blood tests confirmed Agyepong was sickle cell disease free.

“Over the past few months, what we’ve seen is that Revée’s sister’s bone marrow has taken over the production of Revée’s red blood cells,” said Dr. Andrew Daly, who directed the risky stem cell transplant at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. “The amount of sickle-cell hemoglobin in her bloodstream has decreased almost to zero.”

Agyepong, who had been going for red cell exchange transfusions every eight weeks to treat her sickle cell disease, said: “I can see the light at the end of the tunnel… I’m not feeling as much pain. I’m not exhausted. So I’m excited for that.”

Stem cell Assistant Professor of Genetics and Developmental Biology Stormy Chamberlain holds a tray of stem cells at the University of Connecticut’s Stem Cell Institute at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, Connecticut, Aug. 27, 2010. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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