Thalassemia is the most common genetic disorder in Thailand, with 30% of all Thai adults being carriers — good that there is now a cure for newborn babies.
The effect of Thalassemia
Thalassemia causes the body to produce less hemoglobin than the body requires. It can cause anemia, making the sufferer frequently feel fatigued. In severe cases, patients may require continuous blood transfusions, as well as iron-binding treatments to avoid transfusion-related complications, like stunted growth and other hormonal and heart conditions.
What causes Thalassemia?
Thalassemia is a genetic disorder that impairs the regulation of protein production in red blood cells — the cells responsible for transporting oxygen to all body parts.
If either parent has abnormal globin genes, they are likely to pass it on to their offspring.
How does it get passed on?
If only one parent passes on the genetic mutations that cause Thalassemia, the child will become a carrier of the disease. They will not exhibit symptoms like anemia or enlarged liver and spleen. However, if both parents pass on the faulty genes, their offspring will suffer from thalassemia.
What to do if your child is at risk of Thalassemia?
If you are a carrier, check if your partner is one too. If you and your partner are both carriers, contact your doctor because your baby will have a 25% chance of getting the disease.
How does Thalassemia affect your child’s life?
Thalassemia can cause anemia, making the child feel fatigued most of the time. Some children with mild Thalassemia might not need treatment. But those with more severe forms might have pale or yellowish skin, facial bone deformities, slow growth, enlarged spleen, abdominal swelling, and heart problems.
What to do if your child is diagnosed with Thalassemia?
In severe cases, children may require continuous blood transfusions, as well as iron-binding treatments to avoid transfusion-related complications. Overloading iron in the body due to blood transfusions can damage vital organs like the heart, liver, and endocrine system. Other treatments for Thalassemia include medication and surgery to remove the spleen. Children with Thalassemia also face a higher risk of infections, especially if their spleen has been removed.
Can we cure Thalassemia?
The only available cure for Thalassemia, at the moment, is bone marrow stem cell transplantations, which require matching and healthy stem cells. Unfortunately, it can be tough to find matching stem cells, and research shows that 75% of patients looking for stem cells don’t get them in time to be treated. This is one reason parents choose to bank their child’s cord blood at birth — 80% of all matching stem cells are found within the family.
Curing Thalassemia with a pre-implantation genetic diagnosis
Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) is a laboratory procedure used in conjunction with in vitro fertilization (IVF) to reduce the risk of passing on inherited conditions. This is an option for parents who have a child that needs treatment for Thalassemia and want to use the cord stem cells of their next child to treat the sick child. In this case, the parents can select an embryo in the lab that matches their first child but does not have Thalassemia.
After birth, they can collect the newborn’s cord blood stem cells and use these stem cells to cure their elder, sick child of the disease.
In Thailand, THAI StemLife, in cooperation with Superior ART and Jetanin Hospital, are now the leaders in Asia for PGD procedures to cure children from Thalassemia. The group is responsible for 15 of the 100 children who have been treated this way worldwide.
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THAI StemLife is Thailand’s first and largest stem cell bank and the only one with real-life-saving cases. They are the only provider in Thailand that operates 24/7 for traumatic brain injury emergencies.