AL-QATIF — The national campaign organized by King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC) showed the culture of stem cell donation is almost nonexistent in the Kingdom as only 5,000 donors have signed up so far in the List of Saudi Stem Cell Donor Registry at the KAIMRC, Al-Hayat daily reported.
The real problem lies in the fact that the organs of these donors are not compatible with the organs of the patients who need stem cell transplantation, a matter that exasperates the suffering of patients who are in dire need of organs.
KAIMRC research coordinator Riyad Al-Ghareeb said more educational campaigns are needed to raise public awareness about this issue in the hope that compatible patients are found.
“There are patients who suffer from leukemia, hereditary blood diseases or immune deficiency and they need stem cells and do not have relatives with compatible organs,” Al-Ghareeb said.
It costs around SR1 million to undergo a stem cell transplant in some countries, Al-Ghareeb noted. “We’re working on increasing the number of donors who sign up for the registry in order to help the patients who need the stem cells,” he said.
Anyone between 18 and 55 can donate stem cells either through blood, a process which does not require any operation, or through bone marrow surgery during which the cells will be taken from inside the body by a syringe. Both methods have proved to be successful; the donor will recover in 2-7 days.
The stem cell donation issue has cropped up following the story of Dr. Fatima Al-Farraj, who encouraged members of society to donate stem cells. Her story began when she was playing with her nine-year-old son while she was studying in Canada. She noticed that her son would fall to the ground and almost faint without any clear reason. She had to take him to the hospital where she discovered something strange. Her son suffered from the same medical condition she was specializing in during her study and training at a specialist hospital in Canada that treats cancer. She learned that her son needed a stem cell transplant to save his life.
Her brother said Ameen suffers from a bone marrow disease because of cancerous cells and that his spine cannot produce enough platelets. “We started a campaign in the USA and Canada but didn’t find donors with compatible cells. Then we thought about launching a campaign in the Kingdom in the hope that we’d find the right person,” he said.
Ameen’s family refused the idea of carrying out such a campaign, so they searched for a donor from the family and relatives. Much hope was pinned on Ameen’s older sister but she was not a match.
“The campaign launched here in Al-Qatif has raised people’s awareness about the disease and hundreds participated in it,” he said.