LOS ANGELES—Despite the ongoing worldwide lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and despite unprecedented obstacles to the delivery of critically-needed healthcare, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry performed its 35th stem cell harvesting procedure in Yerevan on June 23, to facilitate a life-saving transplant for an Armenian patient in Germany.
Ever since the World Health Organization announced the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the Republic of Armenia, like any other country, has gone into a nationwide lockdown, in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. During this time, hospitals were instructed to postpone or delay all non-life-threatening procedures, including treatments for certain cancer patients.
COVID-19 made the situation of cancer patients even worse, due to the danger of severe health complications in case of an infection. Ironically, a state of isolation or lockdown, including the practices of wearing masks and social distancing, is not unfamiliar to cancer patients, who, because of their chemotherapy and radiation treatments, must adhere to those restrictions in the course of their “normal” lives.
“The restrictions necessitated by the pandemic make one appreciate more the hardships and isolation that most cancer patients must go through in their daily lives,” said Dr. Frieda Jordan, President of ABMDR. “As a registry, we felt that although most other registries throughout the world have stopped their services in terms of donor search, we had to continue our life-saving work, and to continue to be a beacon of hope for patients whose last hope of survival is to have a matched donor for a stem-cell transplant.”
“We appreciate the fact that finding a matched donor is very difficult,” Dr. Jordan said. “We want our patients to know that they are not forgotten, that they can rely on us, and have their stem cell transplant once hospitals resume their activities after the lockdown.”
ABMDR’s 35th stem cell harvesting procedure on June 23 took place at the registry’s Stem Cell Harvesting Center in Yerevan. The stem cells were donated by a young Yerevan resident for a chance to save the life of her brother in Germany.
“Extraordinary efforts were required, in Armenia and Germany alike, for the seamless performance of the harvesting procedure in Yerevan, and the same-day delivery of the harvested stem cells to Germany through a special international courier,” said Dr. Sevak Avagyan, ABMDR’s Executive Director. “Everything had to be implemented like clockwork, including obtaining all emergency permits from the Ministry of Health and the Pandemic Emergency Committee. Every second counted!”
Dr. Avagyan thanked in particular the Health Ministry of Armenia, various government agencies, and Belavia Airlines for the smooth implementation of the entire process.
Dr. Jordan said that despite the extraordinary circumstances of the past several months, ABMDR has continued to perform all tests for patients in Armenia and worldwide, proceeded to collect cord blood samples, and, above all, identified and facilitated the registry’s 35th harvest.
Dr. Jordan added that ABMDR has taken one big step further during this period, by applying its scientific resources and knowledge for a major research project that seeks to understand the relationship between COVID-19 and genetics, as manifested in an Armenian population sample. “Our hope is to draw a conclusion on the correlation of individual HLA profiles and susceptibility to the disease,” Dr. Jordan said and concluded, “Our research paper is progressing, and we hope it will be presented at all international scientific forums soon!”
Established in 1999, ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps Armenians and non-Armenians worldwide survive life-threatening blood-related illnesses by recruiting and matching donors to those requiring bone marrow stem cell transplants. To date, the registry has recruited over 32,000 donors in 33 countries across four continents, identified over 9,000 patients, and facilitated 35 bone marrow transplants. For more information, call (323) 663-3609 or visit abmdr.am.