The largest stem cell transplant unit in South Africa was launched at a Pretoria hospital this week.
Speaking after the official launch on Wednesday night, Jackie Thomson who heads up the Albert Alberts Haemopoitic Stem Cell Transplant Unit at the Netcare Pretoria East Hospital said many potential patients did not realise that transplants could be undertaken in South Africa and therefore travelled abroad for treatment.
Most transplants in Africa
Thomson said the hospital's unit completes over 80 transplants annually, more than any other country on the continent.
Haemopoitic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is the transplantation of blood stem cells from blood or bone marrow in the case of bone marrow transplantation.
It is used for the treatment of diseases of the blood, bone marrow and certain cancers. Thomson is assisted by haematologist David Brittain and paediatric oncologist Dr David Reynders.
Facilities of the new hospital unit
The newly launched facility has 30 single private rooms, all in an isolation ward, vital to the protection of transplant patients whose immune systems are weak after transplantation.
The unit is supported by a stem cell laboratory and cryopreservation facility. "Our staff and doctors are among the best in the field and we are the only unit that offers treatment to both children and adults," said Thomson.
"We are a one-of-a-kind centre of excellence for the whole of the southern African region and treat patients from right around the sub-continent."
Complying with international standards
She said the unit was benchmarked against similar centres around the world, and reported to the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation and the Centre for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research.
"The unit is complying with international standards every step of the way including with donor care, stem cell manipulation and stem cell transplant.
The hospital said it did as many transplants as some of the larger centres in Europe, which was "remarkable" considering that it had been performing them for only four years. The new facility would improve its capacity.
Thomson said the majority of transplants used stem cells from unrelated donors, but a few were from relatives. Most were from international donors from donor registries.
Netcare chief executive officer Richard Friedland said in the four years Thomson and her team had made significant advances.
"It has become a life saving procedure for those individuals who have had the misfortune to contract diseases such as leukaemia and other blood disorders," he said.
"High patient occupancy rates at this centre are showing that there is a great need for it in Gauteng, and a demand for its services." (Sapa, August 2010)