Sep 8, 2022

New Apheresis Unit at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City welcomes its first patients

New Apheresis Unit at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City welcomes its first patients

SSMC’s latest transfusion medicine service, one of its kind in the UAE, will support patients in the management of more than 80 different conditions and diseases 

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. September 8, 2022 – Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), one of the UAE’s largest hospitals and a joint-venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic, has established its newest Apheresis Unit as part of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. Through its partnership with Mayo Clinic, SSMC is committed to bringing life-changing and the most advanced treatments to the UAE. The brand-new unit, which is the only one of its kind in the UAE, will be part of transfusion medicine services. 

Transfusion medicine is a branch of medicine that involves laboratory testing for blood components, clinical transfusion practices, patient blood management, and apheresis

The Apheresis Unit will provide support for a wide range of specialties, including hematology and oncology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology and the bone marrow transplant program. Apheresis is a medical procedure that supports the management of more than 80 different conditions and diseases. This is done by directing the blood in the patient’s veins through tubing to a machine that separates the blood into its components. The diseased component is either removed or replaced, while the remainder of the blood components are reinfused back into the patient. The entire process can take between two to four hours. 

Dr. Hiba AlHumaidan, consultant clinical pathologist and the head of Transfusion Medicine Services and the Apheresis Unit at SSMC, said: “Our new apheresis unit has already been a huge game changer for us, with the state-of-the-art technology providing an added support to some of our key specialties like hematology and oncology. The potential of the transfusion medicine service is incredibly exciting, we are able to support the management of a wide range of conditions and with plans to grow further, we can provide new technologies and procedures to help more people in the UAE who may be eligible for such treatments.”

Sixty-four-year-old Emirati Mohamed Al-Shehhi was diagnosed with a very rare lymphoma of the skin (cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, also known as Sezary syndrome) in the middle of 2019. Sezary syndrome is difficult to treat and, for eight months, Mr. Al-Shehhi received various treatments in the UAE without any improvement. He visited Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, in the United States, for more answers and treatment. There, they recommended extracorporeal photopheresis therapy (ECP), a non-surgical apheresis procedure where the white blood cells are separated, treated with a specific medication and then exposed to UVA light. The cells are subsequently returned back to the patient body with the rest of his blood components. These treated cells will change the immune system response, and will help fight the disease and improve symptoms. One of the main advantages is that there is no immune suppression and therefore, lower risk of infections compared to other therapies.

Mr. Al-Shehhi experienced a significant improvement with this therapy at Mayo Clinic, which was not available in the UAE at the time. 

“I suffered from painful symptoms that caused skin redness and intense itching and bleeding. I visited many doctors and all of them advised chemotherapy treatment, as it was the only available treatment in the country,” said Mr. Al-Shehhi. “I refused the chemotherapy in order to avoid the side effects and was referred to Mayo Clinic, but I had to come back home.”

After learning that SSMC would soon have an extracorporeal photopheresis machine at the hospital’s Apheresis Unit, Mr. Al-Shehhi visited the hospital to meet with Dr. Mustaqeem Siddiqui, hematology and oncology consultant at SSMC. 

“After speaking with Dr. Siddiqui, he confirmed to me that I could receive treatment for my condition directly at SSMC. I was overjoyed by the news as it meant that I could now visit the hospital here in Abu Dhabi and be near to my home and family,” he said. “Being able to access this treatment here, in my home country has made a huge difference for me and means I no longer have to travel abroad to seek treatment for long periods of time.”

Dr. Mustaqeem Siddiqui, vice chair and practice chair and consultant in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at SSMC, explained: “Mr. Al-Shehhi had to return to the Mayo Clinic and stayed there for several months because this treatment was not available here in the UAE. As a pioneer in complex, human-centered care, we are extremely happy to bring this technology and innovative treatment to benefit all people of the UAE. We offer the same machines and quality of treatment as our partner Mayo Clinic, but here locally where it is more convenient for our patients. This is truly transforming the delivery of care in the region and further placing Abu Dhabi on the global map of health care.”

Dr. AlHumaidan concluded: “Mr. Al-Shehhi was referred to us for ECP treatment at the Apheresis Unit, where we were able to start him on the protocol he was on at Mayo Clinic. We are very pleased that we can provide access to this kind of technology, limiting the need to travel abroad so that patients like Mr. Al-Shehhi can receive treatment closer to home, surrounded by family.”