2009 Annual Report: Spotlight on Leukemia

Spotlight on Leukemia

On June 18, 2009 the CIRM governing board heard a Spotlight on Leukemia featuring a clinician and patients speaking about their hope for stem cell research. These are their stories.

Theresa Blanda
Orange, CA

In October 2008 Theresa Blanda was at a turning point. Already she ached. A tumor grew on her knee, forcing her to use a walker. Now laboratory tests showed the blood disorder she had fought for five years was turning into leukemia

Blanda had been diagnosed with polycythemia vera — an overproduction of red blood cells. But in 10 to 15 percent of all cases, the disease toggles into an overproduction of white cells and eventually acute leukemia. Blanda’s body produced as many as 95,000 white cells per cubic millimeter of blood, far above the normal 8,000 or so.

“I was headed down the leukemic path,” she said.

Her only hope was a bone marrow transplant, but there was no suitable donor. Then she learned of an experimental trial at the University of California, San Diego, targeting the stem cells that cause cancer. In October, she enrolled in the trial.

Bone marrow transplants are risky and expensive—the procedure costs roughly $250,000.

“Within two months I went from using a walker, to a cane, to walking on my own,” she said. Her white blood cell count dropped to normal. Today she's back at work and off the bone marrow transplant list.

“They’re hoping that treating this at the stem cell level means this can be treated like a chronic disease, like diabetes,” Blanda said. “Will it keep working for me? I hope so.”

© 2013 California Institute for Regenerative Medicine