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Finding a cure for sickle cell disease

Posted at 12:46 PM, Jan 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-15 15:46:27-05

For years, doctors have been working on a way to help people with sickle cell disease, a genetic condition that causes chronic pain as well as life-threatening strokes and organ damage.

It affects an estimated 100,000 Americans. One of those is the son of NBC News colleague Dagny McDonald, who works in Charlotte, North Carolina.

After 13 years, her son, Jensen, finally received a bone marrow transplant intended to cure him of sickle cell disease.

Ideally, a bone marrow transplant would replace a patient’s blood and immune systems, but finding an exact donor match to cut the risk of life-threatening rejection is often impossible.

Doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital have spent decades perfecting a technique using donors who are only partial or half matches.

The process involves taking stem cells from a healthy person’s bone marrow and then transfusing them into a patient.

In the end, it was Dagny who turned out to be the closest match. Two surgeons worked in tandem to painstakingly harvest bone marrow from her hips.

Within hours, doctors infused Jensen with his mother’s stem cells.

It’s still not clear if he is cured of the disease because it can take months for the new cells to grow and thrive.

Right now, Jensen is recovering at home and is no longer experiencing severe pain.

For more information on transplants, click here.