BEIRUT: At 5 years old, Mohammad Seif has already outlived most children who suffer from his rare genetic disease, which claimed the life of his brother, Mustapha.
Thanks to Dr. Nabil Kabbara and a team of Italian doctors, Mohammad has a new lease on life. The little boy could be seen enthusiastically scooting around the room on his specialized walker during a news conference at Rafik Hariri Hospital Wednesday to announce his successful treatment using an experimental stem cell method. The medical feat was hailed as the first of its kind in the world.
“For Lebanon to achieve a world-class medical breakthrough gives us great pride and joy, but it does not surprise us,” Antoine Boustany, the head of the Order of Physicians, told the assembled journalists, doctors, researchers and dignitaries. “As Lebanese, we have made strides in all fields carrying the torch of renaissance in the East.”
Kabbara explained the devastating effects of metachromatic leukodystrophy, known by its acronym MLD. MLD is a degenerative disease that affects the nervous system, impairing motor skills and cognitive development.
The most common treatment is bone marrow transplant or umbilical cord blood from a donor, but in the case of Mohammad, there were no donors, Kabbara said.
“Therefore, the new experimental remedy focused on hematopoietic stem cell therapy after giving him chemical medicine to destroy his bone marrow,” he said. “These genetically modified HSC begin producing ARSA, which leads to digesting sulfatide and avoiding neurodegeneration. With this, all symptoms of the disease can be avoided.”
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 16, 2014, on page 4.