Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Stem Cell Miracle and a Revealing Look

By now, most Cancer Banter readers know the difference between an autologous (self) and allogeneic (donor) stem cell transplant. Both procedures are commonly used to treat blood cancers, such as lymphomas (both Hodgkins and non-Hodgkins), leukemias and multiple myeloma.

That's why I was blown away when I saw an article in today's LA Times, "Stem cells apparently cure boy's fatal [skin] disease." (For an excellent, explanatory video produced by the University of Minnesota, click on Nate Liao.)

The "fatal disease" was a genetic skin condition known as recessive epidermolysis bullosa. Patients with this disease lack "a critical protein called collagen type VII that anchors the skin and lining of the gastrointestinal system to the body." The result is extraordinarily fragile skin that "tears and blisters with minimal friction."

The only known treatment previously was to wrap the skin, mummy-style, in bandages. But a two-year-old boy from Minneapolis received an allogeneic stem cell transplant and has apparently been cured. The boy's body is now pumping out the missing collagen type VII.

This is the first case of using a stem cell transplant to treat a condition that does not involve blood, according to the LA Times. The whole thing amazes me. I can't even begin to speculate why a stem cell transplant would stimulate the production of collagen. And, apparently, doctors and scientists must be scratching their collective heads about the connection too. Notice that the article and headline didn't say that the stem cells cured the disease; it said that the stem cells "apparently" cured the disease.

I also have a rare dermatological skin disorder, cutis laxa, that, fortunately for me, is not fatal. It does, however, make me morbidly afraid to be seen in public in a tank top or swim suit.

I've been taking baby steps in revealing my deformed skin. I've started by wearing cap-sleeve T-shirts that show the wrinkled skin at the top of my arms. I recently became a little braver and wore a tank top to my strength training class at LA Fitness. Now, in my boldest move yet, I'm publishing a photo of the back part of my arm pit. As you can see, the crinkled area is circumscribed and there are clear demarcations between the healthy and unhealthy skin.

I've been documenting the skin condition with photographs so that my dermatologist and I can tell if the prescribed antibiotic I've been taking is effective in preventing the disease's spread (i.e. continued destruction of elastin).

For some less revealing shots (at least physically), click here and then type in "Carrier" as the password. My lovely and talented friend Skye has posted candid photos from my March 2007 "Bon Voyage Party" and February 2008 "Comfort Party."

1 comment:

kaleb said...

photos link is not working---the pwd is not valid