Persevering to save the life of a young Palestinian boy suffering from Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), despite medical protocol to give up hope when a second bone marrow transplantation failed, physicians at the Hadassah Medical Center performed a nonstandard treatment, Donor Lymphocyte Infusion (DLI), and cured his cancer.
The story of Suleiman from Nablus is a testament to Hadassah’s health professionals’ determination to persevere despite the odds, coupled with their grasp of the latest techniques on the cusp of medicine today.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) is an aggressive cancer that manifests itself with a rapid proliferation of abnormal cells in the bone marrow, which interfere with the body’s ability to produce normal blood cells. Suleiman was diagnosed with AML in 2004 when he was eight years old. Initially, he received chemotherapy in Nablus and he improved. But in 2006, his cancer returned, in a more virulent form. Chemotherapy was not effective and Suleiman was brought to Hadassah for a bone marrow transplant.
Suleiman’s older sister, fortunately, proved to be a perfect match and Suleiman went home healthy. But 53 days later, a follow-up examination revealed that the disease had come back, even more virulent this time. Furthermore, Suleiman’s body rejected his sister’s bone marrow.
At this point, traditional medical protocol offers no more options; however, Dr. Benjamin Gesundheit of Hadassah’s Bone Marrow Transplantation Department and Prof. Reuven Or, head of the department, decided to try DLI, only performed in a few cases worldwide for this disease. In this procedure, lymphocytes from the bone marrow donor are infused into the person who received the original bone marrow transplant. The goal is to induce a remission of the cancer by triggering a strong graft-versus-tumor (GVT) effect so that the donor lymphocytes recognize the recipient’s tumor cells as foreign, mount an attack, and kill the residual cancer cells.
As expected, Suleiman experienced graft-versus-host disease. The physicians, however, were able to manage this condition, the residual cancer cells were killed, and Suleiman recovered completely within a few weeks. He is now a healthy, 12-year-old boy, who has returned to playing soccer!
This miraculous case is slated for publication in the American Journal of Hematology.