King’s Lynn girl’s historic lifesaving operation

A nine-year-old Norfolk girl's life has been saved following a transplant from a so-called saviour sibling in a first for UK medicine.

The youngster – Megan Matthews – was treated for bone marrow failure using cells donated after her parents tested IVF embryos to produce a tissue-matched younger brother.

Megan's mother, Katie Matthews, said her son, Max, had 'completed' the family and helped his sister become a 'bubbly and healthy girl'.

She also described her joy at having the whole family home for Christmas following the pioneering life-saving transplant.

It is the first time a stem cell transplant procedure of this kind has been carried out entirely in the UK.


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Doctors initially tested Megan's brother, Stuart, only to find he was not a match to treat his sister against the effects of Fanconi Anaemia, a rare and inherited disease which predisposes to cancer.

Mrs Matthews and husband Andy, from King's Lynn, carried out a worldwide search for a donor, but without success.

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After finding there was no existing match for their daughter, her parents decided to use CARE Fertility Group's Preimplantation Tissue Typing (PTT) programme.

The couple underwent a single round of IVF at CARE Fertility in Nottingham to produce six embryos which were then tested for the disease and a possible match using Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). All tests could be carried out in-house after CARE Fertility and Genesis Genetics opened the UK's first dedicated PGD laboratory.

As part of the procedure, the six embryos were biopsied so a single cell could be removed for testing.

Of these, just two were found to be free of the disease and a tissue match. Both embryos were then transferred to the mother, five days after egg recovery, and a pregnancy test 18 days later proved positive.

This embryo resulted in the birth of a healthy brother for the young girl. His cord blood was collected and he later proved to be a tissue match for his sister.

Dr Colin Steward at the Bristol Royal Hospital for Sick Children carried out the blood transfusion six months ago and the girl is now recovering and hopes to go back to school soon, CARE said.

A decision was also made to take bone marrow from the family's baby boy when he was one year old.

Dr Simon Fishel, managing director of CARE Fertility Group, said: 'Not only is a much-loved child born free of the familial disease but with the opportunity to cure severe bone marrow failure in his sister.

'This is not about IVF for infertile couples, but the only healthcare option open to many hoping to save the life of their child.

'There are thousands of children and adults suffering from severe disease, many terminal with a short life expectancy, who need a tissue-matched blood stem cell transfusion to survive. It is of particular significance that the treatment at CARE Fertility was NHS-funded.''

Speaking to BBC News, Mrs Matthews said: 'This time last year Megan had been hospitalised for eight weeks and this year we are looking forward to Christmas.''

Earlier this month Megan switched on the Christmas lights at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn.

After a countdown Megan, who has a long association with the hospital as a regular on the children's ward and star of the hospital's hand hygiene film, illuminated the hospital for the festive season. Megan was joined at the switch-on with her brothers Stuart, 11, and Max, one, and their mum Katie.

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