Cord Blood Transplant

By George Grow

This is the VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT.

Doctors are closely watching the condition of six-year-old Molly Nash. The girl is fighting a rare and deadly blood disease. Recently, doctors in Minneapolis, Minnesota performed a special operation to treat Molly. She received special cells from the blood of a baby who was created to save his sister's life. Doctors say that tests show the treatment is a success.

Molly was born with a disease called Fanconi anemia. The disease prevented her body from making bone marrow. Her bone marrow could not produce red blood cells to carry oxygen. She could not produce white blood cells to fight infections. And she could not produce platelets to help blood clot.

The only proven treatment is a bone marrow transplant operation. The rate of success is highest when the patient's brother or sister provides bone marrow for the treatment. Molly did not have a brother or sister so her parents decided to create one.

Doctors took eggs from Molly's mother and sperm from her father to create embryos in the laboratory. The scientists tested the genes of the embryos for the presence of Fanconi anemia. They also used tests to identify an embryo that was able to provide special cells for the transplant operation.

Doctors then placed the embryo in Molly's mother. She gave birth to a boy, Adam, at the end of August. Doctors saved blood from the umbilical cord that had connected Adam with his mother. They placed special stem cells from the blood into Molly. Stem cells are able to grow into many kinds of tissue, including bone marrow.

John Wagner of the University of Minnesota performed Molly's transplant operation in September. Three weeks later, he announced that tests show Molly is carrying bone marrow cells belonging to Adam. Doctor Wagner says she is producing platelets and white blood cells for the first time in years.

This was the first known case in which parents used genetic tests to choose a baby because of its ability to save their other child's life. Some observers say the creation of the baby to use his blood cells for his sister raises important questions for society. Doctor Wagner says the medical community should hold a public debate about the issue.

This VOA Special English SCIENCE REPORT was written by George Grow.

Voice of America Special English