May 14 - An experimental stem cell treatment has, according to doctors, saved the life of a seven-year old Romanian girl with a deadly bone marrow disease. The treatment was used as a last resort after two bone marrow transplant operations failed and has proven so successful that the little girl is getting ready to return home from hospital. Jim Drury reports.
Seven year old Bianca is lucky to be alive. She was hospitalised nearly a year ago, suffering from Aplastic Anemia - a deadly condition where bone marrow produces insufficient cells to replenish blood cells. Two bone marrow transplants failed and doctors gave her just months to live. But then came one last, unexpected and untried option - stem cell treatment. With her mother, Bianca travelled from her home in Romania to Jerusalem's Hadassah Medical Centre to receive PLacental eXpanded cells therapy - PLX for short. The first procedure on a bone marrow patient in the world, it required a special permit from Israel's health ministry. Professor Reuven Or oversaw her treatment. SOUNDBITE (English) PROFESSOR REUVEN OR, DIRECTOR OF BONE MARROW TRANSPLANTATION DEPARTMENT AT HADASSAH MEDICAL CENTRE IN JERUSALEM, SAYING: "We use here human cells that are universal, that can be given to patients regardless the typing or matching, and they can induce in the body, probably many important things, including supporting bone marrow function." Cells extracted from human placenta were processed in a laboratory before being injected into Bianca. Doctors say that within ten days of the final round of treatment, her body restarted its production of red and white blood cells and blood platelets. They believe the PLX cells worked by stimulating the recovery of the hematopoietic stem cells contained in an earlier bone marrow transplant. Bianca's mother Simona lost another child to the same disease and feared that losing Bianca had become inevitable. SOUNDBITE (Romanian) SIMONA (NO LAST NAME GIVEN), BIANCA'S MOTHER, SAYING: "I can say to everybody that the treatment I gave to my child was her last chance and really helped her and I recommend everyone to allow their children to have the same chance." Pluristem is the company behind the therapy, which chairman Zami Aberman believes could treat a wide range of conditions. SOUNDBITE (English) ZAMI ABERMAN, CHAIRMAN AND CEO OF PLURISTEM, SAYING: "We have animal studies that demonstrate that our cells can be good to treat patients with Multiple Sclerosis or inflammatory bowel disease, which is inflammation in the bowel in the colon. We have evidence that we can use the cell for orthopaedic use in repetitive injuries, like sport injuries." Bianca still requires regular check-ups and isn't yet able to return to Romania. But with her recovery well under way, doctors hope she'll soon be able to enjoy a normal life...a stem cell pioneer. Jim Drury, Reuters