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'Saviour sibling' is a perfect tissue match

21 July 2003
By BioNews
Appeared in BioNews 217

This week sees more good news for Michelle and Jayson Whitaker, the British couple who were refused permission by the UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to use embryo screening (PGD - preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to provide a bone marrow donor for their sick son. The Whitakers, who travelled to Chicago for the IVF treatment that would potentially save their existing son, Charlie, have received confirmation that their new son, James, is definitely a perfect tissue match for his brother. Despite the use of the embryo screening procedure, there remained a two per cent chance that this would not be the case, said the couple's UK doctor, Dr Mohammed Taranissi.

Charlie Whitaker suffers from Diamond-Blackfan anaemia, a rare disorder of the blood which means he has to undergo a blood transfusion every three weeks. His only chance of living beyond about 30 years is a bone marrow transplant from a compatible donor. The Whitakers have had a daughter since Charlie, but she is unfortunately not a tissue match. Rather than leaving it to chance again, the Whitakers sought PGD to ensure that their next child would be able to help Charlie. But the HFEA said that it could not authorise the treatment because the Whitakers were seeking PGD for tissue typing alone, and not to ensure the embryo was itself free from a serious condition.

In October 2002, the couple travelled to the Reproductive Genetics Unit in Chicago for IVF treatment with PGD. They produced nine healthy embryos, from each of which a single cell was tested to see if the embryo would be a tissue match for Charlie. Three of the embryos were a close match and the best two were implanted into Michelle. One of the embryos successfully implanted and, as a result, James Whitaker was born on 16 June 2003 at a hospital in Sheffield, UK. A sample of the baby's umbilical cord blood was taken and sent to the Chicago clinic for testing to confirm the tissue match with Charlie - the results have just come back positive. The remaining cord blood is stored at a stem cell unit in Oxford until it is needed for transplantation. The family have been advised to wait six months before considering the stem cell transplant in case signs of the blood disorder appear in James. The causes of Diamond-Blackfan anaemia are unknown, but the illness can sometimes run in families.

On hearing the news, Jayson Whitaker said 'We are really ecstatic. It's really good news and we see it as one more positive milestone on the journey towards getting Charlie better'. However, despite the tissue match, the couple have not yet firmly made up their mind to go ahead with the stem cell transplant because the procedure carries a five per cent risk of death for Charlie.

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The perfect match
The Daily Mail |  21 July 2003
7 March 2011 - by Sujatha Jayakody 
The parents of a seriously ill child plan to have a 'saviour sibling' whose umbilical cord cells could be used to treat the child's life threatening condition....
22 August 2005 - by BioNews 
Charlie Whitaker, the boy who was once at the centre of a fierce debate over so-called 'saviour siblings', has been given the 'all-clear' by doctors. Six-year-old Charlie, who had Diamond Blackfan anaemia (DBA), received a transplant of cells taken from the umbilical cord of his brother James last year. Last...
21 October 2004 - by BioNews 
Charlie Whitaker, the boy at the centre of a fierce debate over so-called 'saviour siblings', is 'effectively cured' of his rare blood condition. Six-year-old Charlie, who has Diamond Blackfan anaemia (DBA), received a transplant of cells taken from the umbilical cord of his brother James earlier this year. Three months...
28 July 2004 - by BioNews 
Charlie Whitaker, the boy at the centre of one of the fiercest debates over so-called 'saviour siblings' has had a stem cell transplant and is 'on the road to recovery', say his parents. Jayson and Michelle Whitaker made the decision last December to go ahead with the treatment, made possible...
13 April 2004 - by BioNews 
A UK fertility doctor says he is prepared to launch a legal challenge on behalf of a couple who want to conceive a 'saviour sibling' for their ill son. Two-year old Joshua Fletcher has Diamond Blackfan anaemia, a rare condition that could be cured with a blood stem cell transplant...
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