Stem Cell Therapy Can Cure Sickle Cell Disease

By A. Rahman Ford, PNN Columnist

Sickle cell disease is a debilitating illness that affects the hemoglobin in red blood cells.  The disorder causes the normally-round hemoglobin molecules to adopt an abnormal crescent or sickle shape. As a result, the patient suffers from anemia, repeated infections and periodic episodes of pain. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, sickle cell disease affects millions of people worldwide and is the most commonly inherited disorder in the U.S.  It affects approximately 70,000 – 80,000 Americans.  Blacks and Latinos are hit especially hard, with 1 in 500 and 1 in 1,000 being affected, respectively.

Pain is a major symptom of sickle cell disorder.  According to the Mayo Clinic, the pain develops when the sickle-shaped red blood cells block blood flow to the tiny blood vessels in your chest, abdomen and joints.  Pain in the bones can also occur.  Pain crises may last from hours to weeks and may require hospitalization.  According to mainstream medicine, there is no cure.  The only option is symptom management.

However, stem cell therapy (SCT) has brought new hope. Recently, it was reported that 11-year-old Valeria Vargas-Olmedo was cured of painful sickle cell disease.

That’s right. Cured.

In its first stem cell transplant for sickle cell disease, doctors at Loma Linda Children’s University Hospital in California used a stem cell transplant from Valeria’s father to cure the disease. This is noteworthy because the genetic match was only half – what is called haploidentical transplant. 

VALERIA VARGAS-OLMEDO AND HER PARENTS

VALERIA VARGAS-OLMEDO AND HER PARENTS

Prior to treatment, Valeria could not walk, go to school and experienced debilitating chronic pain. After conditioning with chemotherapy, the father’s cells were transfused directly into his daughter. After the treatment, Dr. Akshat Jain pronounced young Valeria “disease free.” 

The University of Illinois Hospital also offers SCT for sickle cell disease.  Using cells from a healthy, tissue-matched full sibling, patients receive immunosuppressive drugs and very low dose radiation before being infused with the cells. This method is less harsh and has fewer side effects than chemotherapy. The donor blood cells produce healthy new blood cells in the patient, eliminating symptoms and making the disease undetectable. 

In 2011, Iesha Thomas was the first patient to receive SCT for sickle cell disease at UI Health.  Six months later, she was cured.

Brothers Julius and Desmond Means were cured the following year.  In this video, Julius says having sickle cell disease as a young child was “like being tortured from the inside out.”


Saint Louis Children’s Hospital offers a similar therapy and uses cells from bone marrow, circulating blood or donated umbilical cord blood.

Unfortunately, not every hospital offers SCT for sickle cell disease.  However, if you are suffering from the illness it might be a good idea to contact a hospital that does, make an appointment with an experienced physician, and see what your options are. 

It is extraordinarily rare that mainstream medicine uses the term “cure” in association with any chronic disease.  Stem cell therapy has ushered in a new cure-based paradigm of medicine.  We need to take advantage of it.

A. Rahman Ford.jpg

A. Rahman Ford, PhD, is a lawyer and research professional. He is a graduate of Rutgers University and the Howard University School of Law, where he served as Editor-in-Chief of the Howard Law Journal. He earned his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania.

Rahman lives with chronic inflammation in his digestive tract and is unable to eat solid food. He has received stem cell treatment in China. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.