NRL News

Although never mentioned Robin Roberts’ transplant another example of the routine use of adult stem cells

by | Sep 21, 2012

By Dave Andrusko

Robin Roberts, center, poses with her sister Sally-Ann Roberts, and Dr. Gail Roboz on the “Good Morning America” show August 30.

Robin Roberts, the popular “Good Morning America” co-anchor, underwent a bone marrow transplant Thursday to treat myelodysplastic syndrome. MDS is a rare disorder that had damaged her bone marrow, making it no longer able to make the healthy cells and platelets we all need to live. Her older sister, Sally-Ann, was Robin’s bone marrow donor.

In the procedure, a patient’s damaged bone marrow is eradicated and then replaced with healthy, donated marrow.

Although the words were not used, in fact, the transplant is another example of the successful, even routine use of adult stem cells.

“We always call it a bone marrow transplant, but really it is a transplant with blood stem cells,” said hematologist-oncologist Colleen Delaney, director of the program in cord blood transplant and research at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

If the full ramifications of the stories about Roberts were more widely known, it would be a real eye-opener. For example, as noted below, another terrific source is umbilical cord blood.

Obviously there is a better chance of success the closer the match between donor and recipient cells. Ms. Roberts was especially fortunate because her sister was an excellent match. (Finding a family match happens only about 30% of the time, according to USA Today’s story.)

“The other 70% (more than 10,000 patients each year) have to turn to an unrelated adult donor or donated umbilical cord blood,” wrote Michelle Healy. “Often treated as waste and discarded, umbilical cords and placentas are rich with blood-forming cells, and more recent studies show the outcomes of cord blood transplants ‘are just as good as conventional donor outcomes,’ Delaney said.”

And “Because cord blood transplants don’t require the close genetic matching needed for more conventional bone marrow transplants, they hold special promise for the thousands of patients each year who can’t find a well-matched, unrelated donor, a particular challenge for people of mixed ethnicity and minority backgrounds, says Delaney.”

NRL News Today asked Dr. David Prentice, an expert on the issue of stem cells, to comment. He said,

“An adult stem cell transplant is currently one of the most effective treatments for MDS, the condition that Robin Roberts has. No doubt, it’s a harrowing experience for MDS patients leading up to the transplant, with chemotherapy to destroy the cancer in her body.  But then the adult stem cell transplant is a short and simple procedure—an IV injection into her vein, and the millions of adult stem cells begin looking for a new home. 

“In this case, they will look to make themselves at home as new bone marrow, and begin producing new red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for immunity, and platelets for clotting.”

His conclusion cut to the chase:

“The more we focus on adult stem cells, the sooner we’ll find gentler and more efficient methods for transplants like this one, for other types of cancers, for anemias, as well as spinal cord injury, heart damage, and dozens of other conditions.  Adult stem cells are truly the patient’s best friend.”

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Categories: Adult Stem Cells