Foreigner receives Chinese stem cells in transplant first

A Pakistani patient who had to rely on blood transfusions to say alive receives treatment from a medical team at Shanghai General Hospital.
Jiang Xiaowei / SHINE

Jasmin Tahira, wife of patient Tahseen Dilbar, uses an intercom to ask how her husband feels during his transplant operation.

A patient from Pakistan who suffered from a failure to produce healthy blood cells received a hematopoietic stem cell transplant at Shanghai General Hospital on Wednesday.

In what was the first case of a foreigner using Chinese umbilical cord blood in a hematopoietic stem cell transplant, his ability to produce healthy blood cells is expected to be restored after two weeks. Previously, he had to rely on blood transfusions to stay alive.

Father of three Tahseen Dilbar, 30, was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) — a group of disorders in which bone marrow does not produce enough healthy blood cells — in 2010.

Over the past eight years he tried various types of blood transfusion, but his condition kept worsening. His family then set out to seek medical treatment overseas and turned to China and Dr Wang Chun and his team for help.

"In Pakistan the treatment was not completely possible so we came to China," Dibar's wife Jasmin Tahira told Shanghai Daily. "We feel very satisfied with the treatment and the doctors are very good."

Dr Wang filed an application for a match with the China Marrow Donor Program, as well as seven umbilical cord blood hematopoietic stem cell banks across the nation. 

He later heard from the Shanghai branch that the hematopoietic stem cells in an umbilical cord blood sample it collected from the city's Tongren Hospital 10 years ago were a match.

The umbilical cord blood and the peripheral blood donated by Dilbar's elder brother were injected into his body on Wednesday morning while his wife waited outside. 

"The patient has three brothers and sisters but only one elder brother's hematopoietic stem cell showed a half-match," said Dr Wang. Pakistan can perform transplants using completely matched hematopoietic stem cells, the doctor added, but not for half-matched ones.

According to Dr Wang, in the half-matched case, umbilical cord blood is injected along with the peripheral blood mainly to reduce the body's natural rejection. However, he warned that there was still a risk of relapse as the cure rate is only 60 percent.

"Myelodysplastic syndromes are early stage leukemia and difficult to treat," Dr Wang said. "So the hematopoietic stem cell transplant should be carried out as soon as possible." 

The hospital's partner China Stem Cell Group Co Ltd, which is in charge of the construction and management of Shanghai's Cord Blood Bank, said so far it has helped with 3,200 umbilical cord blood transplants, the highest in the country. Nearly 60 percent of patients who received the transplant are still alive after five years, it said.

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