KBC Zagreb celebrates the 1000th transplantation of autologous stem cells

Zagreb, February 17, 2009 – KBC Zagreb celebrates the 1000th successful transplantation of autologous stem cells. Stem cells, that is bone marrow, are first taken from the patient and frozen. Then they are returned to the patient after the application of high doses of therapy.

“The main objective of this procedure is to destroy the malignant disease and achieve full recovery by the application of very high doses of antitumor therapy. Normal functioning of the bone marrow is reestablished by returning the stem cells that were previously taken from the bone marrow or blood, and therefore the patient is cured of the malignant disease,” said Prof. Damir Nemet, MD, PhD, Head of the Department of Intensive Care of Hematological Diseases at KBC Zagreb.

In the Division of Hematology KBC Zagreb the treatment of hematological malignant diseases by way of transplantations of autologous bone marrow has developed from the transplantation of allogeneic bone marrow (from HLA identical related donors), a procedure which was introduced in 1983 by the head of the Division of Hematology, Prof. Boris Labar, MD, PhD, and Vinko Bogdanić, MD. The first freezing of autologous bone marrow (from the patient) and the transplantation was performed in March of 1988 by Prof. Damir Nemet, MD, PhD, and a small team of associates. That was the first such treatment program in Central and Eastern Europe.

The existence of the technology for transplantations of autologous stem cells made it possible to perform the first transplantation of cord blood cells which was done in 1990 by Vinko Bogdanić, MD, and Prof. Damir Nemet, MD, PhD. That was one of the first ten or so transplantations of cord blood in the world and the first in the world for a patient with chronic myelogenous leukemia.

Every year there is an increase in the number of patients who are treated with transplantations of autologous stem cells at the Division of Hematology at KBC Zagreb. In the past few years that number has amounted to between 80 and 90 annually. In February of this year the 1000th transplantation was performed.

“Since the first efforts were made 20 years ago to set up the technology for this type of transplantation, today the transplantation of autologous stem cells at KBC Zagreb is an organized, extensive and successful program for treating patients who cannot be treated in any other way. With acute myelogenous leukemia, depending on the type and stage of the disease, the transplantation of autologous stem cells can cure up to 62% of patients. About 50% of patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s disease can also be cured with this treatment,” said Drago Batinić, MD, PhD, an immunologist at the Clinical Institute of Laboratory Diagnostics, KBC Zagreb.

The technology of the autotransplant was the basis for establishing the first Cord Blood Bank at KBC Zagreb, which is named after Ana Rukavina.

“The Ana Rukavina Cord Blood Bank was established in March of 2007. The Bank operates as a public bank and is part of the national Registry of voluntary bone marrow donors. A network of maternity wards has been organized to collect cord blood from voluntary donors for the needs of the bank in order to expand the possibility of finding transplants which can save lives,” added Marija Rukavina, Director of the Ana Rukavina Foundation.

Mirando Mrsić, MD, PhD, the medical director of the Foundation and a hematologist at KBC Zagreb, talks about the Ana Rukavina Foundation’s future actions: “We are aware of the fact that with time we will come to the point that the Registry of voluntary donors and the stem cell Bank will be able to finance themselves, and consequently, in the future the Foundation will finance the research of new possibilities for therapy in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma and malignant lymphoma, as well as award scholarships to young experts in Croatia and abroad in order to create a research center in Croatia.”

The mission of the Ana Rukavina Foundation until now has been the continuous effort of expanding the Croatian Registry of voluntary bone marrow donors and raising financial resources for the operation of the cord blood Bank. From now on we are also adding the rapid development of new types of therapy, educating patients about new possibilities in terms of treatment and their inclusion into research protocols, as well as financially supporting the research of projects related to diagnostics and therapy of leukemia, lymphoma and malignant diseases.

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