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A baby born to help cure her sick brother

Marina Álvarez, centre, with Dr Antiñolo on her left
Marina Álvarez, centre, with Dr Antiñolo on her left / EFE
  • The 'medicinal baby' has been born free of the genetic illness and blood from her umbilical cord will be transplanted in the future to save her brother's life

The Andalusian health service is celebrating another major success, following the birth of the region's third 'medicinal baby': in other words, a baby - a little girl in this case - who has been born free of a hereditary genetic illness and is, at the same time, 100 per cent compatible with her brother, who suffers from a serious blood condition and can only be cured with blood from her umbilical cord.

The boy, who is ten years old, suffers from a rare hereditary illness which affects his stem cells. Over time, his platelets and red and white blood cells will fail unless he has a bone marrow transplant from a donor who is 100 per cent compatible. This has now been assured, thanks to the birth of his baby sister.

This is the third case of its type at the Virgen del Rocío hospital in Seville, and for the team led by Dr Guillermo Antiñolo, the head of the Genetics, Reproduction and Foetal Medicine unit, which is a leader in these technical advances.

So far, there have also been Javier, who was born in 2008 to cure his brother Andrés, and Estrella, born in 2012 to cure her brother Antonio. There has only been one other case of this type in Spain.

The press were given details of this new 'medicinal baby' case earlier this week by the regional government's Minister for Health, Marina Álvarez, Dr Antiñolo and his team.

The blood from the baby's umbilical cord is now being stored in the Umbilical Cord Bank at the blood transfusion centre in Malaga and it will remain there until it is needed for a transplant, if and when her brother's condition becomes worse.

Guillermo Antiñolo is obviously very excited about this achievement, especially because of the hope it gives to the family, and he talked of 'unexpected survivors.'

“They have shown me how difficult it is to be faced with certain things in life, and how wonderful it is to be able to help them,” he said.

The baby girl was born at the hospital on Wednesday and her histocompatability profile is identical to that of her brother. This makes her an ideal donor, because they have the same blood group and the same defence system, which reduces to the minimum the chances of the transplant being rejected.

Dr Antiñolo explained that the illness from which the little boy is suffering is incurable at present, and a transplant of this type, of blood from the umbilical cord, is the best option for him.

Precedent

So far there is only one precedent for this described in international science journals, so if the transplant is carried out successfully it will be only the second case in the world in which a patient with this syndrome is cured with a transplant from a compatible sibling after the application of the Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis.

Marina Álvarez told the press that “when a procedure such as this can be carried out by a public health system, it shows that the system is prepared for anything.”

She said that the birth of the little girl, free from the genetic illness, and the possibility of curing her brother, is a cause of great satisfaction for the hospital, its professionals and the whole health system.

“It shows that we are at the forefront of medicine and can carry out all types of procedures to provide quality of life. Few places in the world can offer treatments like this. However, nothing happens by accident; behind this success lie many years of work, preparation and research,” she said.