Stem Cells save Kids with Cancer

January 26, 2009 5:46:57 PM PST
There are some types of childhood leukemia where chemotherapy and radiation don't work. These cancers are often fatal, even with aggressive treatment. Now doctors are turning to experimental stem cell therapies to give kids a fighting chance. Taking a risk saved a little boy's life. Adolfo Gonzalez will never forget the day his two-year-old son was born.

"It was incredible ... best feeling ever," Gonzalez recalls.

The excitement turned to devastation one year later when a doctor diagnosed little Adolfo with a rare form of leukemia called JMML.

"He said with or without treatment, your son will not survive," Gonzalez said.

Instead of giving up, the family found Gary Kleiner, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatric immunologist at the University of Miami School of Medicine in Miami, Fla.

"Most of the cases are fatal by the time the child is three years old," Dr. Kleiner told Ivanhoe.

He enrolled Adolfo in a trial testing umbilical cord blood transfusions.

"The stem cells from the cord blood started to grow in his own bone marrow and his white count started to increase back to normal," Dr. Kleiner explained.

The new blood created by the stem cells replaced all of Adolfo's blood and eliminated the leukemia cells in his body.

"Once 100 percent of your blood is converted over to the cord blood, it's rare to see a relapse of leukemia," Dr. Kleiner said.

But Adolfo's troubles weren't over. His new cells began to attack his body. Standard drugs didn't help, so doctors turned to stem cells once again. As part of another experimental treatment, Adolfo received eight infusions of adult stem cells to stop the destruction. It worked. Today, there's no evidence of cancer in his body.

"My son's a miracle," Gonzalez said.

Adolfo may not remember the tough first years of his life. That's okay by dad.

"He's going to be a great little boy," Gonzalez said. "He's going to be just a normal little kid." A little kid who can get back to the important things in life.

The cord blood for Adolfo's transfusion came from a public cord blood bank. Parents can choose to donate their babies cord blood shortly after birth.

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