On July 14, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) presented Stuart Siegel, MD, of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, with the “Establishment of the Year” award at their annual gala at the Hilton Glendale. Siegel and his colleague, Neena Kapoor, MD, director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant Program, were instrumental in helping to establish the first autologous transplant program in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia.
“I am honored to accept this award on behalf of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. We have been pleased and grateful to share in this amazing work that has come so far in meeting the needs of Armenian children who need hematopoietic stem cell transplants,” said Siegel, founding director of the Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Diseases.
Children receiving intensive chemotherapy as well as children with certain immunological or blood disorders, may require a stem cell transplant. During the transplant, immature blood-forming cells, called hematopoietic stem cells, are given to the child in order to “rebuild” his or her immune system. The harvested cells travel into the bone marrow, where they will mature and develop into healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
Since transplants ideally require that both the donor and recipient carry the same inherited tissue type, it can be difficult to identify a donor outside a patient’s immediate family. The most successful alternative is to search for patient-donor compatibility in an ethnically-similar population which shares these inherited tissue types. With the goal of easing the emotional and physical burden placed on critically-ill patients, Frieda Jordan, PhD, together with Sevak Avagyan, MD, started the ABMDR in 1999 to identify genetic matches for Armenians.
Siegel, Kapoor and the hematopoietic stem cell transplant team at Children’s Hospital began working with ABMDR in 2001 as they developed the registry. In 2012, the ABMDR sought the help of Siegel and his colleagues to equip the capital city of Yerevan with the technological and educational means needed to perform autologous transplantation procedures in Armenia. This type of transplant harvests the patient’s own healthy hematopoietic cells before cancer treatments, and later returns them to the patient in order to replace the bone marrow cells damaged by chemotherapy and radiation.
With the assistance of Siegel, visiting physicians Andranik Mshetsyan, MD, and Armond Mehdikhanian, MD, were taught necessary procedures that would bring this essential treatment option to Armenia. Mshetsyan received guidance from Robert Seeger, MD, director of the Cancer Program at The Saban Research Institute, and trained in Kapoor’s lab, where he perfected the techniques of cell harvesting, processing and freezing. At the conclusion of his stay at Children’s Hospital, Mshetsyan performed Armenia’s first autologous stem cell transplant.
“Dr. Siegel was truly a mentor to us, providing a vision for this most important work. We are also grateful to Dr. Neena Kapoor and her team at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for helping us to implement an autologous transplant program in Armenia,” said Frieda Jordan, PhD, President, Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry.