The first reported case of using a bone marrow transplantation to cure sickle cell disease was performed on an 8-year-old girl that also had acute leukemia. The bone marrow of the girl with SS was successfully replaced with bone marrow of her AS brother. Since then, bone marrow transplants have been performed successfully on a number patients who were severely affected with sickle cell with over 90% survival and 74% event-free survival by 1997.
Bone marrow is the soft, fatty tissue that can be found inside bones and these tissues have stem cells that can give rise to red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. In order to perform transplantations, the bone marrow of the patient is killed using either radiation, chemotherapy or both and is replaced by healthy donor bone marrow. More information on bone marrow transplants can be found here. Bone marrow transplantation is a high-risk procedure and can be life threatening. It is expensive and requires expert physicians, making it improbable to implement as a treatment in third world countries where sickle cell is a major health problem. Aside from these requirements, medical complications such as graft-versus-host disease (the newly transplanted bone marrow attatcks the transplant recipient’s body) and graft rejection can result from bone marrow transplants. Because of this, bone marrow transplants are normally only offered as a treatment option to patients that are severely affected by sickle cell.