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SKMC introduces new Iron Level Screening System to Help Thalassaemia Sufferers

Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC), Abu Dhabi’s flagship hospital, has introduced a new screening system to monitor iron levels in thalassaemia sufferers, allowing for better quality of care and eliminating the need to send patients abroad for lengthy periods.

According to the Emirates Thalassaemia Society, one in 12 UAE nationals is a carrier for thalassaemia, a disorder that reduces the number of normal blood cells in a patient’s body. Treatments for thalassaemia include regular blood transfusions; however, these increase the amount of iron in the body, which can cause iron overload in the liver and heart, leading to the risk of cardiac complications and potential death.

SKMC has introduced FerriScan and cardiac T2 analysis, a non-invasive MRI-based technology that allows doctors to quantitate iron levels in the liver and heart, helping them to better determine the right treatment patients need.

“The important thing with thalassaemia is to tailor the treatment based on the amount of iron they have in their body; unfortunately, previously we were treating patients, without having any clear insight into how much iron they had in their heart and liver, other than through conducting a series of blood tests,” said Dr. Azzam Al Zoebie, Chief of Pediatric Hematology & Oncology at SKMC, and certified with the American Board of Paediatrics. “Now, we can scan patients with a non-invasive process, measure iron levels exactly and tailor treatment accordingly. It’s giving us an excellent tool to save patients’ lives.”

In severe cases, thalassaemia can be treated with a bone marrow transplant, which requires sending patients abroad. However, since screening for iron overload is required before a transplant, patients had previously been spending long periods outside the country. Prolonged courses of iron chelation treatment are required based on the results of the screenings, before any transplant procedure can be undertaken – screenings which were previously unavailable in the UAE.

“Before we offered this service, patients were spending months at a time outside the country because they had not been pre-screened before being sent abroad,” said Dr. Asim Khwaja, Chair of the Department of Radiology at SKMC and certified with the American Board of Radiology.

“Now, we can easily establish iron levels on an out-patient basis and determine optimum times for treatment. This scan reduces unnecessary time away from families and loved ones for our patients, and means we can provide better quality of care.”

SKMC will be able to treat as many as 200 patients at the hospital, according to Dr. Al Zoebie, and is looking to offer the service to other hospitals in the country.

SKMC is part of the SEHA Health System and is owned and operated by Abu Dhabi Health Services Company PJSC (SEHA), which is responsible for the curative activities of all the public hospitals and clinics in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.