Today, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) announced a significant development for Qatar in treating blood cancers. A highly specialized team of clinicians at the National Center for Cancer Care and Research (NCCCR) – a member of HMC - has successfully performed the first stem cell transplants, in the country, on two expatriates who have an aggressive form of blood cancer called myeloma.
This is the culmination of years of development work by the HMC’s Stem Cell Program, and is a first for the country. For many patients with blood cancers, this is a lifesaving treatment that was not available locally up until now.
Stem cell transplant is a highly effective therapy and often the only hope for a cure or for a longer life for patients with blood cancers. At HMC, the program started off by using the patients’ own stem cells for transplant, known as autologous transplant. The healthy stem cells were collected from the patients’ blood using a special mobilization process and equipment. This process being undertaken at NCCCR is the more advanced technique, and it is the most convenient and safe method for the patient. The preparation of the patients took days and the procedures took several hours and required the involvement of highly trained expert staff. Once the harvest of cells was completed, the patients had a break while the cells were examined and stored properly, then they were admitted to hospital for a high dose of chemotherapy that killed off their bone marrow, followed by a transplant. The healthy cells that were harvested were transplanted back into their system to enable healthy, disease-free bone marrow to grow.
Hanan Al Kuwari, PhD, Managing Director of HMC, is delighted that the program at NCCCR is successful and able to offer this treatment to patients. “We have been working on the development of the Stem Cell Transplant Program at Hamad for some time now,” she said explaining further: “Up until now, patients who would benefit from this type of advanced treatment would have to have been treated abroad. This increased their risk of infection, due to the travel involved, and meant the recovery time was longer than it would be if we were able to treat them here in Qatar. As such, this is a tremendous step forward for Hamad as an academic healthcare provider and for our blood cancer patients who are in real need of this highly specialized treatment.”
Dr. Al Kuwari went on to explain that there have been significant collaborative, quality, education and research components on stem cell transplantation carried out at NCCCR. “We have been working with some of the worlds’ leading experts in the field to set up a program that adheres to international best practice and standards and that is sustainable here in Qatar. Development of programs like this is so important because it helps us deliver the safest, most effective care for our patients – we want to make sure they are given the best possible opportunity for a long and healthy life.”
Professor Alexander Knuth, Medical Director at NCCCR, has been leading the development of the stem cell transplant program, which has been carried out by a multi-disciplinary team at NCCCR. “This is an amazing clinical advancement for HMC and NCCCR. A stem cell transplant program takes meticulous planning, highly specialized education and training, a world-class clinical environment to work within and a top-performing, multi-disciplinary team to be successful.”
“We have spent the last year working with the top medical institutions in the world, ensuring our staff have all the necessary skills and expertise to deliver this very important program. These successful transplants of healthy stem cells are a result of our successful intensive team work over the last few months. Stem Cell Transplant represents highly specialized medicine, and to be delivering a program of this caliber in Qatar, indicates the advanced level of cancer services we can provide for our population, as well as positioning us as a leader in the region in cancer care,” Professor Knuth added.