68-year-old diabetic, finally sought treatment for the nasty-looking wound, but every respectable medical practitioner said her leg would have to be amputated. And it would have to happen fast, lest the ulcer spread further and turn gangrenous.
Vamal visited vascular surgeon S.R. Subrammaniyan at Vijaya Hospital, Chennai . Subrammaniyan, who works closely with a stem-cell research facility, came to the conclusion that an experimental treatment involving stem cells harvested from Vamal’s bone marrow could be her only hope for saving the leg. An angiogram showed she had almost no circulation in the limb.
After preparing the wound, Subrammaniyan injected the concentrated solution of stem cells back into Vamal’s leg two times over the next week and waited anxiously for evidence of improvement. Because the wound was so large, he also grafted a piece of skin from her thigh over the ulcer.
The results were nothing less than miraculous.
Within 60 days, the ulcer had visibly healed, and bright, white signatures of arteries streaked across her post-treatment angiograms. The stem cells had apparently re-formed significant lengths of her atrophied circulatory system.
Though, an isolated success story does not necessarily signify a revolution in ulcer treatment. But diabetes sufferers could use the type of medical breakthrough hinted at by Vamal’s recovery.
The number of diabetics is on the rise around the world, and amputation is often the only option left to doctors treating patients with critical limb ischemia, a condition that develops in people with severely decreased blood flow in their lower extremities. The problem is a particularly dramatic consequence of diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, patients with diabetes undergo 60 percent of non-trauma-induced amputations in the United States, totaling 82,000 severed limbs in 2002.
At the moment, the best treatments for diabetics with critical limb ischemia are surgery to bypass atrophied arteries and certain drug regimens that are not always effective.
For Subrammaniyan, stem cells will be a necessary part of the future. And what’s more, stem-cell treatments could be quite cheap: Vamal’s procedure cost less than $2,000. That’s more than most Indians can afford, but over time the cost probably would come down.
I am happy, said Vamal as she left the hospital with her family. “I can walk again — and there is no pain.