Stem cells save Aussie babies
By JUSTINE FERRARI
21jul02

CUTTING edge stem cell therapy has been used to save the lives of several children in Australia born without a working immune system.

The youngest was a baby of two months.

Now aged six months, Tyran Greenhalgh had Severe Combined Immune Deficiency (SCIDS) syndrome, which affects about four babies born in Australia every year.

Having no immune system made Tyran vulnerable. Common illnesses could leave him
critically ill.

For the past 10 years, bone-marrow transplants have been used to treat children with SCIDS.

However, doctors at the Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick are now using stem cells, the cells that grow into bone marrow.

Tyran's return to health turns a full circle for his family. In 1975, Tyran's grandmother Gail Geddes watched helplessly as her son Matthew died at the age of nine months with the same condition.

When Matthew was born, little was known about SCIDs and there was no readily available treatment. Bone-marrow transplants were in their infancy and could only be performed if the patient had a fully compatible brother or sister.

Tyran's mother, Mandy Greenhalgh, discovered when she was about 20 weeks' pregnant that she carried the gene for SCIDs, meaning her baby had a 50-50 chance of having the condition.

"It was very stressful through the whole pregnancy knowing he could have it," Mrs Greenhalgh said.

Of some comfort to her and her mother was that one of the doctors who treated Matthew 27 years ago was the doctor who treated Tyran.

Now director of the Sydney Children's Hospital's immunology department, Professor John Zeigler said stem cells had the potential to turn into different cells in the body for specific functions.

For Tyran's treatment, his father Ian received drugs to stimulate his bone marrow and the stem cells were harvested from his blood and transplanted into Tyran.

Tyran is now growing his own white blood cells designed to fight infection, and T cells and B cells, that make antibodies targeting specific infections.

This means he has every chance of a normal life.