Henry Ford Celebrates First Double-Cord Stem Cell Transplant

October 08, 2014


Procedure addresses disparity in transplant rate for minority patients

DETROIT – Doctors at Henry Ford Hospital are celebrating the success of the system’s first double-cord stem cell transplant, a promising treatment for African Americans and other minorities affected by disparities in life-saving transplant options.

“This procedure has the potential to save a lot of lives,” says Edward Peres, M.D., of the Henry Ford Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant Program at the Henry Ford Transplant Institute. “Patients with blood diseases like leukemia or lymphoma who cannot find a matching donor now have this additional option at Henry Ford Hospital.”

Ethnic minority patients often have a hard time finding a matching donor, with rates around 20% through relatives and national marrow donor banks, explains Dr. Peres. Caucasian patients have a 70% match rate.

But double cord transplants result in a much higher success rate of transplant for ethnic minorities, according to Dr. Peres. About 40% of double cord transplants result in successful treatment and remission for the patient, he added.

“This is a very critical stem cell source for ethnic minorities,” Dr. Peres says. “Success really depends on the malignancy, what the disease is and the patient’s state at the time we’re able to do this. But this offers options.”

The landmark procedure on June 17 was a West Bloomfield, Mich., leukemia patient’s only hope for survival. Ella Mae Mays celebrated her 60th birthday in August – and recently celebrated the significant milestone of 90 healthy days of remission.

“It feels good to know that the doctors at Henry Ford Hospital are working so hard to help people,” says Ms. Mays, who worked as a U.S. Postal Service supervisor before her diagnosis of acute Myelogenous leukemia. “You don’t know what great things are going on behind those walls, passing by.”

After her diagnosis, doctors told Mrs. Mays that bone marrow from a matched donor was her best option to battle the blood cancer. An acquaintance who volunteered to be tested was a match. But as sometimes happens with potential donors, the acquaintance decided to not go through with the procedure.

That’s when Nalini Janakiraman, M.D., director of Henry Ford’s Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplantation program – home of the largest bone marrow transplant patient unit in Michigan -- discussed a double-cord transplant with Ms. Mays.

After Ms. Mays’ bone marrow was eradicated with four days of chemotherapy, Dr. Peres infused her through a port in her chest with umbilical cord blood from two separate donors.

Cord blood collected after the birth of a baby contains stem cells that can generate new bone marrow for transplant recipients. But the cord blood from one baby does not provide enough stem cells to produce the necessary amount of bone marrow for an adult. The dilemma led doctors to combine two units of cord blood for adult transplants, called a double-cord transplant.

About 30,000 cord blood transplants have been performed nationwide since they began in the mid-1990’s, Dr. Peres added. About 10,000 have been double-cord transplants.

Ms. Mays said she is glad to be a beacon of hope to others.

“It’s good to know there are options when you don’t have a person to back you up,” says the mother of three and grandmother to three little boys.

Established in 1988, the Henry Ford Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant Program regularly performs some of the most complex stem cell transplants in the country. The transplant team includes specialists in hematology oncology (blood disorders and cancers), infectious disease, intensive care, blood bank, transplant pharmacy, transplant coordination, nursing, social work and others.

The program’s state-of-the-art facility provides private, spacious, HEPA air-filtered rooms, as well as a walking track, family visiting rooms and many other amenities to help patients and families feel comfortable throughout the transplant process.

For more information about double-cord transplant and the Henry Ford Transplant Institute, visit the Henry Ford Transplant Institute or call (313) 916-5002.