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Curing sickle cell disease

Doctors at the University of Illinois Hospital have cured seven adult patients of sickle cell disease.

They successfully used stem cells from donors previously thought to be incompatible, thanks to a new protocol.

With the protocol, patients with aggressive sickle cell disease can receive stem cells from family members if only half of their human leucocyte antigen (HLA) markers match.

Previously, donors had to be a family member with a full set of matching HLA markers, or a “fully matched” donor.

HLA markers are proteins on the surface of cells that help to regulate the immune system.

The human body uses these proteins to identify which cells belong in the body and which cells do not.

Because HLA markers are inherited from parents, family members are the most likely to have matching proteins.

In transplants, matching HLA markers between the patient and the donor helps to limit the risk that the body of the patient will reject the donor cells.

While doctors always try to find a closely matched donor for patients who need a stem cell transplant, only 20% of sickle cell patients have a family member with a full set of matching HLA markers.

By allowing for “half-matched” donors, the new treatment protocol, which uses only a small dose of chemotherapy, significantly increases the number of potential donors for each patient.

The doctors report on their new technique in the journal Biology of Blood and Marrow Transplantation.

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