Hope for thalassemia sufferers

Developments in genetic therapy give hope to thousands of Greeks suffering from thalassemia – a type of anemia also known as Mediterranean anemia due to its propensity to affect people of Mediterranean descent, according to specialists who say that in three to four years the disease will be able to be treated by replacing the pathogenic gene, which causes the disease, with a healthy one. Current treatment for thalassemia centers on regular blood transfusions and therapy for the complications caused by the disease, according to the Hellenic Society of Hematology’s President Aphrodite Loutradi-Anagnostou, who spoke at a press conference ahead of the 14th Panhellenic Hematological Conference that starts in Alexandroupolis tomorrow. However, a method of replacing the gene responsible for causing thalassemia with a healthy gene is currently being tested, and results so far have been particularly encouraging. Indeed, experts say that Greek sufferers will be able to benefit from this treatment in three to four years. An estimated 3,000 Greeks currently suffering from thalassemia are obliged to undergo blood transfusions every 20 days. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, blood tests are conducted on couples who face the risk of bearing a child with thalassemia; these are then followed by prenatal tests. Significant steps have also been made in tackling the disease using transplants. A bone marrow transplant in thalassemia sufferers may be the solution, according to the head of the transplant unit of Athens’s Aghia Sofia Hospital, Stelios Grafakos. The technique works best on young people who are less likely to reject the transplant. Already, 69 children suffering from thalassemia have undergone bone marrow transplants at Aghia Sofia Hospital. As a result, 65 of them (94 percent) no longer have to undergo blood transfusions.