BREAKTHROUGH: Pakistan’s first-ever stem cell transplant for a rare tumor successfully performed

She underwent Peripheral Blood Hematopoietic Stem Cell Harvest through an Apheresis machine for four days.

Shifa international hospital Islamabad building

Shifa International Hospital, Islamabad, has confirmed the first successful stem cell transplant for a rare tumor in Pakistan. According to reports, the patient who underwent surgery is a 59-year-old woman with rare blood cancer, Primary Central Nervous System Lymphoma (PCNSL).

Details of the Transplant

A press release revealed that the patient endured a series of chemotherapy, immunotherapy, targeted small molecule inhibitor, and radiation therapy, leaving behind less than 5 mm of tumor on brain scans. However, a lot more was needed to revive her health fully.

Therefore, she underwent Peripheral Blood Hematopoietic Stem Cell Harvest through an Apheresis machine for four days. The press release stated:

Stem Cells were collected and preserved at -80°C for one week in a special medium. Drugs eliminated the brain tumor and inevitably caused collateral damage to bone marrow, making the patient aplastic and otherwise unable to survive.

The press release further read:

To rescue bone marrow, her stem cells were then infused back through a central line in the bloodstream over three days. Over the next two to three weeks, she remained in a severely immune-compromised state in a specialized unit with HEPA filters requiring radiated blood products, nutritional and anti-microbial support. Still, gradually the Stem Cells kicked in, and her Bone Marrow was repopulated, resulting in improvement in blood counts.

What do the Doctors say?

Dr. Ayaz Mir, Director of Bone Marrow & Stem Cell Transplant at Shifa International Hospital, shared the case details with the media. He expressed concern that only a few dozen centers globally, including the United States and Germany, are doing such transplants for this rare tumor. He said:

It took a specialized team of coordinators, apheresis technicians, blood-bank experts, excellent nursing care, and doctors to orchestrate this complicated process in Pakistan successfully. Shifa International Hospital has done about 350 bone marrow and stem cell transplants, but this was one of the most challenging cases.

Concluding the statement, Dr. Ayaz Mir said:

I urge the government and the pharmaceutical industry to take extraordinary measures for encouraging local manufacturing of drugs to make the treatment affordable for the masses. Pakistan lags behind other regional countries in the field of cancer drug manufacturing. If we start local manufacturing of drugs, we can also curb the multi-billion rupees black market exploiting the desperate.

While Dr. Ayaz Mir’s appeal to the government has gone viral along with his successful stem cell transplant surgery, the government hasn’t responded yet. Only time will tell whether the relevant authorities take notice of the matter.

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