Physicians yesterday started the final stage of Bangladesh's first ever bone marrow/stem cell transplant being conducted on a blood cancer patient at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH).
“We started pushing back (fresh) stem cells extracted from the patient in October last year,” Prof MA Khan, director of Bone Marrow Transplantation Unit, told journalists at a press conference at DMCH.
It will take three months to be sure if the patient has been cured or will need further treatment, he said.
He told The Daily Star that the cancerous cells on the 52-year old multiple myeloma patient were destroyed on March 8 using high-dose chemotherapy.
Once successful, Bangladesh will witness a major leap in cancer treatment through bone marrow transplantation, doctors said.
Situated on the 9th floor of the DMCH's new building, the technologically sophisticated transplantation unit was inaugurated on October 20, 2013.
“The unit will conduct bone marrow/stem cell transplantation for free for the next three months,” Health Minister Mohammad Nasim told the press conference.
The facility is expected to bring down transplantation cost to about Tk 5 lakh, which is about Tk 10-12 lakh in India. Depending on the state of the patient, it may cost nearly Tk 1 crore in the US and Singapore.
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), United States, provided technical support and training in setting up the facility in the last one and a half years, while the government procured medical equipment worth about Tk 20 crore, said DMCH Director Brig Gen Md Mustafizur Rahman.
Bimalangshu R Dey, a Bangladeshi doctor working in the US as an assistant professor of the Department of Medicine at MGH, was one of the key figures who arranged the deal between the Bangladesh government and MGH.
He said, “For the first six months, the unit will only try the simpler methods (autologous stem cell transplant). Patients who have multiple myeloma and lymphoma (two forms of cancer) will be treated at present.”
Autologous stem cell transplant is the process when the patient's own stem cells are used while allogeneic transplant is when stem cells of another person are used.
Commenting on the unit's potentials, Bimalangshu R Dey said about 80 to 90 percent of the patients born with thalassaemia major (disorder of red blood cells) can be fully cured if the transplant is done at the right time.
The unit has five sterilised cabins where the transplants can take place. Patients usually need to spend several weeks in the cabins during the transplantation, Dr MA Khan said.
“Depending on our success, we hope to eventually conduct more complicated transplantations,” he told The Daily Star.