A milestone in the country’s healthcare system was marked in September 2014, when the first bone marrow transplant was successfully performed at the Nawaloka Hospital.
The hospital recently confirmed the country’s first ever successful bone marrow transplants for leukemia, neuroblastoma, hurler’s syndrome and haploid procedures at its purpose-built bone marrow transplant unit. Commissioned in September 2014, with an infrastructure costing over Rs.150 million, the nation’s pioneering state-of-the-art bone marrow transplant unit has, to date, successfully completed eighteen thalassemic transplants.
It has also successfully completed the nation’s first ever leukemia transplant and the hurler’s syndrome transplant with the important milestone in the transplant’s engraftment and recovery.
Bone marrow diseases affect the production of blood; these diseases can be either inherited or acquired but are treatable effectively through bone marrow transplant. Bone marrow transplant is a procedure that transfuses healthy bone marrow cells into the body after unhealthy bone marrow has been treated encouraging normal bone marrow activity and blood cell production. There are two main types of bone marrow transplants: autologous transplant and allogeneic transplant.
autologous transplantation uses the patient’s own marrow, which is removed from the patient’s body by apheresis (a process of collecting peripheral blood stem cells) and re-infused into the bloodstream. Allogeneic transplantation uses cells obtained by apheresis from a genetically matched donor — most commonly a sister or brother — whose tissue type closely matches that of the recipient.
Finding a matching donor can be a challenging and a lengthy process. Under a new alternative surgery, half matched bone marrows are now used to save patients. This is known as a haploidentical match, a variation of allogeneic transplant where the donor is the parent; the genetic match is at least half identical (50% match) to the recipient.
These transplants are rare and success depends on a combination of technological features and the professional skills of the specialists in treating the patient. Nawaloka’s recent success in completing the first ever haploidentical stem cell transplant offers renewed hope for children and adults seeking treatment in Thalassemia.
Diseases treatable with bone marrow transplantation include for non-malignant conditions: Aplastic Anemia, Thalassemia Major and for malignant conditions: Multiple Myeloma (MM), Non-Hodgkin and Hodgkin Lymphoma, Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML), Neuroblastoma and Hurler’s Syndrome. Cancer is now the third most common cause of death in Sri Lanka and haematological malignancies are some of the commonest malignancies of children and young adults resulting in a devastating loss of life for families.
As for the nation, a bone marrow transplant unit was a long overdue one with 90 percent success rate, and the most cost effective treatment, changing the lives of children born with the disease. Nawaloka’s bone marrow unit offers specialized expertise and unequaled technological features including three purpose-built, self-contained patient units. Each patient has his own bathroom, washing facilities for the visitor and the patient remains confined to the room for 30-45 days in order to prevent the immune system from being compromised.
With Sri Lanka venturing out into new avenues of healthcare, this medical advancement will provide better prospective for children facing lifelong debilitating disorders and life threatening diseases.
This facility will also help diminish the need for patients to have to travel abroad to countries like India and Singapore spending double the cost. The cost for undergoing bone marrow transplant overseas is a staggering Rs.7-10 million. However, this procedure is performed in Sri Lanka at Nawaloka Hospital at Rs.3.5 million for thalassemia patients, just one third of the cost overseas. Today, Nawaloka Hospital stands in the forefront of Sri Lankan medical history, offering the Sri Lankans effective and life changing procedures at a fraction of the previous financial burden and hope in regaining their health and lives.