Singapore dad donates stem cells to save son’s leg from amputation


When he was just seven, Javier Tan (pictured) had a stem-cell transplant that was meant to save his life.

Instead, his body rejected it, and he developed a bone infection so severe that doctors thought he would lose his leg.

Finding another donor would normally have meant a wait of several more months.

Instead, he got one within weeks, and kept his leg, thanks to a novel transplant method that requires the donor to be only a 50 per cent – not 100 per cent – match. This meant that his parents, who had been ruled out before, became suitable donors.

Javier, who suffered from a rare genetic condition which caused his blood count to drop to dangerously low levels, needed a stem-cell transplant so his body could create new blood to save his life and fight the infection in his leg.

The conventional gold-standard treatment called for a complete human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match. HLA is a protein found on most cells used to match a patient and donor for bone marrow or cord blood – which contains stem cells. This time, though, doctors opted for a haploidentical transplant.

Here, specific immune cells – the T-cells responsible for attacking foreign bodies and in Javier’s case, the newly transplanted cells – were removed, so his body did not reject the second batch of stem cells from his father.

It was a success.

Javier, now nine, is a healthy Primary 3 pupil. He is among over 60 people here, from three public hospitals and a cancer centre, who have undergone the life-saving haploidentical transplant since it was introduced here about a decade ago.

The relatively new transplant method allows virtually anyone to have a suitable donor, said Dr Rajat Bhattacharyya, a consultant at the department of paediatric sub-specialities at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH).

Since October 2014, doctors at KKH have treated four children with this method, two with rare immune disease, including Javier who suffered from Fanconi anaemia. The two others had cancer and bone marrow failure.

At the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), it has been used to treat about 10 adult patients since 2004, mostly those with leukaemia.

The National University Hospital (NUH), the first to successfully implement the procedure here for children, and with the largest number treated so far, has had 38 successful transplants on children since 2010, while the National University…

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