NRL News

Robin Roberts Returns to GMA. Use of adult stem cells to treat her blood disorder overlooked

by | Feb 21, 2013

By Dave Andrusko

Robin Roberts

Robin Roberts

Once again a jaunt on the old Gold’s Gym treadmill paid results. Although I had forgotten all about it, Good Morning America co-anchor Robin Roberts was making her triumphant return to ABC’s #1 rated morning show after being on medical leave following a bone marrow transplant to treat a rare blood disorder myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).

It was great television: a close up of Roberts who told her audience, “”I’ve been waiting 174 days to say this: ‘Good morning, America.’”

During the course of the program (obviously much of which was devoted to Roberts), she reflected on faith, family and physicians.

“There’s so many people that I want to thank throughout the morning, my doctors and nurses and family and colleagues and people who have sat in this chair and those who have blazed the trail before me,” Roberts said. “As my mother said, ‘We all have something.’ Everyone’s story has purpose and meaning and value and I share this morning, this day of celebration with everyone.”

Besides a wonderful story of triumphing over cancer, there is a special association for pro-lifers. Indeed, if the full ramifications of the stories about Roberts were more widely known, it would be a real eye-opener.

MDS damages the 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.

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

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 a 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. “It is so heartening to see her return, and it further validates the life-saving abilities of adult stem cells,” he said. “I hope she’ll become a champion to speak out and educate people about the real promise of stem cells–adult stem cells.  Many more lives could be saved if only more people were aware of the successes, shown by her example and thousands of others.”

Prentice noted that “No doubt, it’s a harrowing experience for MDS patients leading up to the transplant, with chemotherapy to destroy the cancer in the body.” However, “the adult stem cell transplant is a short and simple procedure—an IV injection into a 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 speaks volume:

“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