Look: 11-year-old boy gets groundbreaking cancer treatment at Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre

Physicians withdrew the cells from the patient and genetically modified his immune cells in the laboratory

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Published: Tue 19 Sep 2023, 8:10 AM

In a new innovative and groundbreaking medical achievement, Abu Dhabi Stem Cells Centre (ADSCC) has manufactured the UAE’s first chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, which has been used to successfully treat an 11-year-old leukaemia patient.

Engineered CAR-T cells therapies are recognised as a breakthrough in blood cancer treatment. The therapy has brought relief to Murad who was diagnosed with leukaemia more than five years back and went into remission. However, a few months back the cancer returned. He underwent chemotherapy but did not respond to that treatment. At that point, CAR-T cell therapy was the only treatment option available for him.

The procedure involved manufacturing the cellular product CAR-T, which relies on the use of immune cells from the patient, at ADSCC’s Good Manufacturing Practices laboratories – one of very few labs in the Middle East. The treatment took five weeks, during which Murad was admitted to ADSCC. Physicians withdrew the cells from the patient and genetically modified his immune cells in the laboratory to fight the cancer cells after intravenously injecting them into the patient.

Thrilled with the positive outcome in Murad’s case, Dr Yendry Ventura, CEO of ADSCC, noted the success in creating the therapy as a “significant milestone” at the national and regional levels.

“Our success in creating CAR-T therapy in Abu Dhabi marks a momentous leap in our commitment to making a profound impact on a regional level. CAR-T therapy is a remarkable advancement for fighting diseases using the body’s immune system, and there was a pressing need to make CAR-T cells available in UAE.”

Dr Ventura highlighted the support of the UAE’s leadership, the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, and having a capable team at ADSCC in overcoming the challenges faced.

“This achievement not only brings hope to countless patients but also strengthens our position as pioneers in cutting-edge medical innovation, right here in the heart of the UAE. With the support of UAE’s leadership and the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, we aim to revolutionise perceptions of cancer treatment by pushing the limits of what can be achieved through cell therapy where genetically modified immune cells are used to precisely target tumours in individuals with specific blood cancers. We’re truly thrilled to see Murad doing well.”

Dr Noura Khamis Al Ghaithi, Undersecretary of the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, underlined: “Under the directives of our wise leadership, Abu Dhabi continues to cement its position on the global healthcare map. Through its capabilities and continuous innovation and research efforts in the field of life science, we are able to enhance the health and safety of members of our community, and beyond. Today, Abu Dhabi's healthcare sector is built on several pillars that make the emirate a leading destination for healthcare, especially given the strong governmental support and guidance, along with the emirate's advanced infrastructure, its healthcare facilities, and skilled workforce.”

It was way back in September 2021 that ADSCC announced starting the first experiment of its kind in the UAE and region that studies the safety and effectiveness of CAR-T cell therapy in the treatment of haematologic cancers, such as myeloma, lymphoma, and certain forms of leukaemia.

“ADSCC researchers, scientists, and physicians have devoted the past year to prepare for the imminent launch of engineering CAR-T cell therapy. This milestone demonstrates ADSCC’s unparalleled commitment to advancing medical science in the region, and is a testament to the capabilities of ADSCC, the availability of cutting-edge technologies, and its top-notch expertise,” Dr Fatima Al Kaabi, Executive Director of Abu Dhabi Bone Marrow Transplant Programme at ADSCC, said.

“With Murad’s condition not responding to chemotherapy, our hematologists and scientists worked closely with Murad’s treating physicians at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) for a smooth transfer to ADSCC to receive CAR-T cell therapy, the only effective treatment for his condition. It is a proud moment for us all as we see Murad returning to his home and family. The launch of such an advanced technology in the country solidifies the UAE’s position as a global destination for medical advancements and research in line with our wise leadership vision,” Al Kaabi noted.

CAR-T cell therapy has long been a monopoly of foreign pharmaceutical companies and has been an approved treatment in the US since 2017. Due to its difficulty and sensitivity of manufacturing, its accessibility has been limited in the region. ADSCC is the only accredited Centre of Excellence in Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation in the Capital.

Murad’s parents who were devastated after being diagnosed with leukaemia are now delighted after their son’s treatment, which is the first of its kind in the UAE.

“We are truly lucky that this very advanced breakthrough became available at this time when Murad needed it. The team provided us with full information on the procedure, what to expect, and the steps throughout the treatment journey. I did not hesitate once,” Murad’s father Majid said.

“Murad is our first child, thanks to Allah, he is now in good health and back home with his sister. A word of thanks is not enough to the whole team at ADSCC who helped Murad come back home. We are truly lucky to be in the UAE, which has always been our home providing us with care, safety, and beyond. We wish all children good health, and for those fighting cancer, you are true heroes,” the father said.

Murad, who got discharged and is back with his parents and sister, added: “Thank you for helping me with CART-T Cell.”


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