6 June 2024

Thailand’s Ramathibodi Hospital has conducted what is believed to be the world’s first successful bone marrow stem cell transplant from a five-year old donor infected with COVID-19 to his seven-year old thalassemia-afflicted sister.

The successful stem cell transplant was revealed today by the Faculty of Medicine at Ramathibodi Hospital of Mahidol University and the Ramathibodi Foundation.

Professor Dr. Suradet Hong-ing, a stem cell transplant specialist, said the case was very challenging, because both donor and recipient are quite young and the donor is infected with coronavirus. The recipient is weak and has a compromised immune system following a course of chemo-therapy.

He said that doctors involved in the transplant had to exercise extra caution at every step, starting with the collection of the stem cells from the bone marrow of the donor.

Dr. Suradet said that doctors had a race against time, because the donor, Nong Jeo, had to be transferred to Ramathibodi Chakrinarubodin, a centre for the treatment of COVID-19 patients, while the recipient, Nong Chine, was badly in need of the stem cells, because of her low immunity, and was at great risk of losing her life.

Dr. Suradet recalled that, fortunately, the bone marrow stem cells were free from the virus and the transplant was conducted quickly and successfully.

He disclosed that it is not easy to find compatible stem cells, with the chance being one in 20,000 to 50,000 among people who are not genetically connected.

In the case of Nong Chine, he said that doctors could not afford to wait to find compatible stem cells from a non-relative, adding that gene splicing is not possible for Nong Chine.

“So, Nong Jeo’s stem cells were the only hope,” he said.

The father said that Nong Chine was being treated for her thalassemia at Ramathibodi Hospital until, in late 2018, he was informed by the doctors that the tissues of his two children were compatible and a stem cell transplant operation was scheduled in April this year.

“As the time for the procedure was approaching, we got the bad news that Nong Jeo and my wife were both infected with COVID-19, so they were all isolated from one another.  It was the worst time for us, but we were relieved that our family was under the care of the medical team,” said the father.