Bone marrow transplants may cure many sufferers of beta thalassemia, a fatal illness of young adults brought on by a genetic defect that cripples the blood's ability to absorb oxygen, according to new research. The technique, a radical procedure commonly used to treat some deadly forms of cancer, was pioneered as a thalassemia treatment in the early 1980s. It involves destroying all blood-producing cells and injecting new cells from a donor.
But if the technique fails, the patient usually dies.
In tests of 222 children under 16 who had the defect, Italian researchers led by Dr. Guido Lucarelli reported that 82% were alive one year after the transplant, with most experiencing no complications.