World’s First, Athens to Host Revolutionary Stem Cell Transplant

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A four year old boy will become the recipient of stem cells extracted from the umbilical cord of his baby sister who was just born last week in Athens. The boy is afflicted with chronic granulomatous disease, a congenital heterogeneous immunodeficiency disorder resulting from the failure of phagocytes to kill ingested microbes, resulting in increased susceptibility to severe infections that eventually leads to untimely death.

Being administered by geneticist Costas Pangalos and gynecologist Costas Pantos, the procedure will be the world’s first for this particular disease.

Dr. Pantos told ANA-MPA that the parents of the sick toddler’s parents also have a healthy older child. In the procedure, the mother’s ova (eggs) are fertilized in vitro. The fertilized ovaries then undergo a PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis) to determine which fertilized ova are free of this particular hereditary disease, as well as a histocompatibility test for compatibility with the ailing child. The disease-free, compatible ovum is than implanted into the woman’s uterus.

The procedure was innovative given that no tissue or blood was taken from the infant itself, Pantos explained. Instead the treatment was of the kind where stem cells from the blood contained in either the umbilical cord or the placenta — both of which are discarded after the birth takes place — are used to save lives.

Given traditional treatment, the 4-year-old boy’s prognosis would not be good due to the fact that the disease becomes fatal when the patient reaches the age of 10-15, However, the countdown for the boy will be stopped as soon as the stem-cell transplantation takes place at Athens’ Agia Sophia Children’s Hospital in the following weeks.

In seven months’ time for a comparable reason, a second baby will be born into another family in Ilioupolis, Athens. Again, the specialized tests conducted before the in-vitro-fertilized ovum was implanted in the mother’s uterus came out exceptional like in the first case, according to Pangalos and Pantos.

According to Pangalos, this is a world-first and it is a major scientific achievement showing that Greece has great technological potential. “A single cell can provide the information that an embryo is healthy and histocompatible, a state or condition in which the absence of immunological interference permits the grafting of tissue or the transfusion of blood without rejection,” he said. “Only two or three research centers in the United States, one in France, an Italian, a German and we, have the necessary technological capability,” added Prof. Pangalos. “From now on, the greatest application of this method will be the treatment of children suffering from cancer. There are not enough donors, and unfortunately children die. This technique can save their lives,” he stressed.

Prof. Pangalos will announce this world first achievement by Greek doctors and geneticists at the American Geneticists Conference in October.

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