Burjeel Medical City Successfully Performs the First Bone Marrow Transplant from a Donor to a Child


Burjeel Medical City’s Bone marrow transplant unit has successfully performed the very first bone marrow transplant from a donor to a child in the UAE. The highly advanced, matched sibling transplant treatment was successfully carried out on a five-year-old girl from Uganda, with the donor being her 10-year-old sister. The patient responded well to the treatment and is due to be discharged from Burjeel Medical City within a few days, following 5 weeks admission to the hospital.

Prior to the treatment, the child, who suffered from sickle cell disease, had been regularly admitted to hospital due to complications arising from her disease since birth. Sickle cell disease is a genetic disorder which results in an abnormality in the haemoglobin found in red blood cells, causing them to become sickle shaped and leading to a number of complications including anaemia, swelling in the hands and feet, frequent pain, acute chest syndrome, and sometimes stroke. Doctor Zainul Aabideen, Head of Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at BMC, noted the imperative nature of providing such advanced treatment at the hospital, commenting that: “The only curative option for this life-threatening condition is bone marrow transplantation. Prior to this procedure there would have been immense suffering for the patient. The entire care team here at the hospital, as well as the child’s parents, are delighted that the transplant will relieve this pain from her life.” The patient’s donor in this case was the girl’s sister.

Allogeneic stem cell transplant involves transferring healthy blood stem cells from a donor to replace a patient’s diseased or damaged bone marrow. The highly complex and specialised procedure requires collecting stem cells from the donor’s blood, bone marrow within a donor’s hipbone, or blood of a donated umbilical cord, before transferring to the patient, once they have undergone an intense series of chemotherapy or radiation — also known as the “conditioning” process — to fully kill their diseased cells and prepare their body to receive the healthy donor stem cells. Once ​​infused into the bloodstream, the donor cells begin creating new blood cells within the patient’s bone marrow. The treatment is followed by several weeks of close medical care and attention, as well as blood test check ups to monitor the body’s response to the new cells.

Burjeel Medical City is currently performing bone marrow transplantation for another child from Iraq, suffering from thalassemia major, a severe blood disease in children which requires regular blood transfusion and very expensive medicine for the duration of their life.

The only curative treatment for this life-limiting chronic disease is the bone marrow transplantation currently taking place at BMC. Other diseases for which the treatment can provide a cure include leukemia, immunodeficiency diseases, hemoglobinopathies, hodgkin’s lymphoma, plasma cell disorders, and myeloma.

BMC placed extreme importance on enlisting the correct nursing care for the procedures, recruiting those who are experienced in bone marrow transplantation in children. A team of highly specialised doctors, including a pediatric intensive care team, was also pivotal to the success of the procedure, and demonstrates the commitment of BMC to improving the health care of children in the UAE by offering such advanced bone marrow transplant treatment methods.

Professor Humaid Alshamsi, Director of VPS Oncology at BMC, explained: “It has been a very challenging job setting up the bone marrow transplant unit for the first time in this country, especially during COVID-19. However, the consistent commitment of our team has allowed us to set up the first and most comprehensive bone marrow transplant unit. Previously, our patients needed to travel abroad for this highly specialised treatment. The recent success of the stem cell transplants at our institution will provide new hope to the many patients who will benefit from similar care.”

Burjeel Medical City plans to further expand their bone marrow transplant capabilities across the region in the near future, to continue to change the lives of adults and children suffering from chronic and life-altering conditions in need of such treatment, especially those who do not have insurance support to cover the cost.