Leukemia. I’ve dropped a hint or two that I may be talking a little about leukemia on this blog, and I’ve found the perfect way to start. Today, my attention was directed to a video about a girl called Melisa Paskova, a nine year-old girl from Macedonia, who’s been diagnosed with a resurgence of the leukemia she thought she’d defeated a few years ago. If you speak German, I recommend you watch: it’s a heart-wrenching story. On a more self-serving note: it is the personal recommendation of the author that you read this post in its native environment, by clicking here (although you are, of course, allowed to read it here on ScienceBlog too).
Melisa came to Essen, Germany for a bone marrow transplant which represents her best hope of beating the cancer once and for all. Bone marrow transplants are life-saving for a variety of diseases, but it is sadly very rare to find an acceptable donor. Luckily for Melisa, her older sister (10) is a perfect match, so she has a very good prognosis. Unfortunately, the insurance company refused to foot the c. €100,000 bill, and she was on television essentially to ask for money. While everyone I watched this with immediately started trying to make a donation, it emerged that in the few days since she was on TV (RTL on the 15th, and WDR on the 18th) they’ve managed to raise more than enough money: €142,000 according to the fund-raising website!
Cancer is most commonly a disease of older people, which is what makes leukemia so terrifying. It strikes children and tears families apart. The speed with which so many people gave their support to this girl shows that it’s not just the leukemia researchers I’m working with that are touched by this, but I believe everyone can, in some way, picture their children losing their hair and dying slowly while they are powerless to help.
There’s been a great deal of research into leukemia, and the sort of operation that Melisa will undergo is a very recent development. Looking to the future, we are seeing breakthroughs in understanding the causes of leukemia that are going to make their way into the clinic, hopefully within the next 10-15 years. The reason that the people in my lab had been pointed to the video in the first place was that one of the scientists featured had previously worked here, a fact that really brought the story home to me. It’s very heartening to be reminded that what we do here will save lives, even the lives of children that haven’t been born yet.