Facility Is A Major Advance Toward Life-Saving Bone Marrow Transplants
LOS ANGELES—The Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) recently unveiled its Stem Cell Harvesting Center in Yerevan with a grand opening celebration. The much-anticipated event was attended by scores of ABMDR donors, sponsors, patients, physicians, and special guests including VivaCell-MTS general manager Ralph Yirikian, a major supporter of the registry; Archbishop Tatev Sargsyan, who conveyed a special commendation from His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians; ABMDR Advisory Board member Nani Oskanian; a representative from Armenia’s Ministry of Health; and a group of supporters from Los Angeles who had traveled to Armenia to take part in the celebration.
“The opening of the Stem Cell Harvesting Center was an extremely touching experience for every one of us,” said Dr. Sevak Avagyan, executive director of ABMDR Armenia. “While it was wonderful to be surrounded by so many friends, supporters, and colleagues, ultimately the most heartwarming sight was that of our patients and stem cell donors finding common ground in the new facility, where hope awaits those afflicted by life-threatening diseases.” Accordingly, Dr. Avagyan added, the honor of cutting the ribbon of the Stem Cell Harvesting Center was given to Mrs. Varduhi, the ABMDR’s latest bone marrow stem cell donor.
Commenting on the opening of the center, Dr. Frieda Jordan, president of the ABMDR Board of Directors, said, “We’ve been working on this project for the past year, sparing no effort or resource for its realization.” After acquiring the facility, the ABMDR recruited top medical talent and began the arduous process of training personnel and securing medical machinery.
As Dr. Jordan explains, the project was made possible by a number of major corporate and individual donations, as well as grassroots support through the registry’s first-ever telethon, held on April 13 last year. With a total of $850,000 raised, the ABMDR was able to renovate the Stem Cell Harvesting Center site, equip it with state-of-the-art machinery, and continue to train personnel.
In 2006, the ABMDR’s HLA tissue-typing laboratory passed the inspection of the European Federation of Immunogenetics (EFI). In May this year, the laboratory passed the EFI’s second inspection “with flying colors,” paving the way for the future accreditation of the Stem Cell Harvesting Center itself.
The only one of its kind in the region, the ABMDR’s Stem Cell Harvesting Center can store and harvest stem cells provided by healthy bone marrow donors. The stem cells subsequently can be utilized in transplants for patients suffering from life-threatening blood-related diseases such as leukemia and other cancers. “It was absolutely critical to have a stem cell harvesting center in Armenia, since the majority of the ABMDR’s bone marrow stem cell donors are residents of the republic,” Dr. Jordan said. “Having this facility in the country means that local stem cell donors will be spared the often exorbitant expense and inconvenience of traveling abroad to donate their stem cells. The center is equipped with cutting-edge medical machinery that allows our staff to perform not only HLA tissue typing, stem cell harvesting, and cell storage, but autologous transplants as well. These latter procedures can be life-savers for cancer patients, as they restore the integrity and function of bone marrows damaged by chemotherapy.”
Dr. Jordan added that the Stem Cell Harvesting Center has also fast become an important hub for medical learning, and that it will continue to grow as a provider of workshops for medical students.
“Today, as our next major goal is to establish a dedicated stem cell transplantation center in Armenia, a top priority is to push for the highest possible standards in the quality and effectiveness of our operations,” Dr. Jordan continued. “Now that the dream of having a stem cell harvesting center has become reality, we’re working hard toward the next logical step, a full-fledged transplantation center, which would give thousands of Armenian patients access to affordable, life-saving stem cell transplants.”
According to Dr. Jordan, the transplantation-center project will be showcased during “Match for Life 2009,” the ABMDR’s annual gala, on July 12. The event, which will be held at the Glendale Hilton in Glendale, California, will honor Ralph Yirikian as Man of the Year, recognize the outstanding services of several ABMDR volunteers, and celebrate the ongoing support of the registry’s many benefactors and volunteer assistants.
For reserving tickets to the “Match for Life 2009” gala, call the ABMDR office at (323) 663-3609, Nectar Kalajian at (626) 705-2565, or Ani Azar at (818) 606-6000.
About the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry: Established in 1999, the ABMDR, a nonprofit organization, helps 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 14,144 donors across three continents, identified 1,305 patients, found 1,033 potential matches, and facilitated nine bone marrow transplants. For more information, call (323) 663-3609 or visit abmdr.am.