Adult recipient of stem cell transplant in Calgary cured of sickle-cell disease
An Edmonton woman who received donor stem cells from her sister during a procedure in Calgary last year has been declared cured of her sickle-cell disease and health officials believe Revée Agyepong is the first adult in Canada to be cured of the disease through this method.
Sickle-cell disease causes red blood cells to become misshapen and leads to the clogging of small blood vessels. The disruption can result in bone deterioration and organ failure.
“People with sickle-cell disease will often survive into their 40s or 50s,” explained Agyepong.
Stem cell transplant procedures had been used to treat children with the disease but doctors feared the complications could do more harm than good on adult patients.
Agyepong and her sister, Stephanie Amoah, advocated for a transplant and, once it was confirmed the sisters were a perfect match and Amoah was free of the disease, doctors agreed to the surgical procedure.
“I was just excited to know we would get the HLA testing which is the compatibility testing,” recalled Agyepong. “We hoped for the best, crossed our fingers, and then, on her birthday – which is crazy, we got the best news ever; that she was a ten-out-of-ten match.”
In November of 2017, Agyepong underwent a complicated and risky stem cell transplant at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre under the direction of Dr. Andrew Daly, who leads Alberta’s bone marrow transplant program.
“When Revée approached us, we had coincidentally been thinking about adult stem cell transplant for sickle-cell disease based on the remarkably good outcomes that Alberta Children’s Hospital has been seeing with transplants in the pediatric population,” explained Dr. Daly in a released statement. “She met all the necessary criteria in terms of being able to tolerate a transplant but, most important, she had a sibling who was a 100 per cent match.”
The procedure proved successful but there are concerns as her immune system will remain compromised as a result of the anti-rejection drugs. The side-effects are expected to persist for another year.
On Tuesday, blood tests confirmed the 26-year-old was sickle-cell disease free.
"Over the past few months, what we've seen is that Revée's sister's bone marrow has taken over the production of Revée's red blood cells," said Dr. Daly. "The amount of sickle-cell hemoglobin in her bloodstream has decreased almost to zero."
“I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Agyepong. “I’m not feeling as much pain. I’m not exhausted. So I’m excited for that.”
Agyepong is optimistic and excited by the idea that the success of her stem cell transplant could result in additional sickle-cell disease patients being offered the treatment.
With files from CTV’s Kevin Green