It used to be a disease that very few children could survive. But thanks to a breakthrough by a pioneering clinic in Russia, 70 per cent of young sufferers of leukemia now make a full recovery.
Karina Falakhutdinova is seven years old – but if it had not been for the pioneering new treatment she would not have seen her first birthday.
“She was a month old when she started developing a strange blue rash – at first we thought it was malaria, then we found out it was infant leukemia,” Karina’s parents recall. “Karina was put in intensive care, but the prognosis wasn’t good.”
She was treated at Ekaterinburg Regional children’s hospital – both doctors and patients unaware at the time that they were on the verge of a breakthrough.
“We realized we couldn’t influence her disease anymore with aggressive chemotherapy,” said Karina’s doctor Larisa Fechina. “We decided to use transregional acid.”
Leukemia thrives in immature blood cells and transregional acid, which is better known as “Vesanoid”, forces those cells to develop, stopping the leukemia from spreading.
Although not a new treatment, it had previously only ever been used on adults.
“Once we started the new treatment, Karina started improving, until one day we got the news we’d been praying for: that she was better,” the girl’s parents said.
This new treatment combining both Vesanoid and chemoptherapy was so successful it even surprised the doctors and has been prescribed to many other patients since – with encouraging results.
Just 20 years ago, drugs to treat infant leukemia were harder to come by in Russia. Their correct use was little known and the survival rate was below ten per cent.
Now with a survival rate of 70 per cent, pediatric oncology has made tremendous progress.
“We found that the results were so good that we could introduce it to the world,” Fechina claimed.
Russia is also working very closely with countries such as Germany to develop their expertise and now hopes to share the knowledge and experience that gave Karina a second chance.
“The one most important thing for parents when things like this happen is to be patient,” Karina’s mother said. “You really can’t give up.”
And that hope can spread globally. Countries may not agree on many things, but when it comes to battling cancer, they find a common voice. That means ground-breaking discoveries like this can save children’s lives around the world.