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Innovative Methods of Cancer Treatment Have Already Been Applied Successfully at “St. Marina” University Hospital - Varna

Leading specialists - immunotherapists and radiologists from Israel and Norway, who have been working with their colleagues at "St. Marina" University Hospital in Varna for a couple of days, presented to the media "Innovations in the Treatment of Oncology Diseases".

The meeting was attended by Prof. Gunnar Kvalheim - medical oncologist-immunotherapist and head of the Department of Cellular Therapy at Radium University Hospital in Oslo, Norway, Prof. Igor Resnick - a deputy director of the Department of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Immunotherapy at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel, Dr. Marc Wygoda - head of the Department of Radiotherapy at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem, Israel, Prof. Dr. Krasimir Metodiev - head of the Department of Preclinical and Clinical Sciences at MU-Varna and vice-president of the European Federation of Infections and Cancer, Prof. Dr. Hristina Grupcheva - vice-rector for Innovations and Translational Medicine at MU-Varna and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Elitsa Encheva - Head of the Department of Radiotherapy at "St. Marina" University Hospital-Varna.

"The project on bone marrow, stem cell and cellular transplantation is one of the two major priorities not only for MU-Varna and "St. Marina" University Hospital in Varna, but also for the whole country," said Prof. Krasimir Metodiev. The other one is Radiotherapy, in which once again on the initiative of the Rector of MU-Varna and with the exceptional cooperation of the Honorary Consulate of Israel in Bulgaria the best Israeli experts are going to visit St. Marina University Hospital during the following days.

"What I have observed over the couple of days of my work visit at "St. Marina" is that all requirements for the establishment of a modern and well-equipped laboratory for stem cells have been completed, and the practical implementation of the project on stem cell transplantation could be launched." That is the statement of Prof. Gunnar Kvalheim, who until recently used to be the President of the World Association for Cellular Therapy and a member of the Committee on Accreditation of all laboratory units for cellular therapy in Europe.

"The first thing we have observed during the examinations and free consultations is that in Bulgaria and especially in this region, unfortunately, there are a lot of people suffering from oncological diseases, and a large number of patients do need this procedure," said Prof. Igor Resnick, who together with Prof. Kvalheim and their Bulgarian colleagues conducted free examinations for 40 oncology patients.

These innovative methods have been applied predominantly to patients with onco-hematological diseases. Stem cell transplantation could be also applied in immunodeficiency disorders. However, a selection of the patients is absolutely necessary, as the approach is individual and depends on the immune system and the particular clinical status of the patient.

The procedure consists of extracting stem cells from peripheral blood. Stem cells are a product of the bone marrow, but in order to be extracted and to reach the peripheral blood, which is most accessible and with the largest number of cells, the patient has to be prepared with preconditioning medications.

At present five patients with onco-hematological diseases are being prepared for autologous transplantation at "St. Marina" University Hospital-Varna. The first apheresis – extraction of patient's own stem cells has already been performed, and the cells have been frozen and stored. The main aim of this process is these healthy cells to be returned to the patient's body after chemotherapy.

According to Prof. Dr. Hristina Grupcheva, vice-rector for Innovations and Translational Medicine at Medical University - Varna, it will be possible 5 to 10 patients per month to be served at the Centre, with a tendency to increase that number. "We have much higher technological capacity to carry out procedures, but on the other hand, these patients need special care and due to that there will be some limits, especially in the beginning, later on probably we will expand our activities." Prof. Grupcheva emphasized on the fact that these transplantations will be accessible for all patients, i.e. including those who cannot afford expensive treatment either in our country and / or abroad.

The research in this field and the application of these methods at the Institute for Cancer Research in Oslo, one of the four reference centres in the world, began 30 years ago. The specialists from Oslo share their experience to the full extend with their colleagues from "St. Marina", who are going to work in compliance with the same standards and follow the same obligatory operating procedures.

"There is fixed percentage of live stem cells, below which we cannot perform transplantations. This quality assessment of the biological tissue, in this case - stem cells must be observed absolutely strictly in order to avoid negative results", explained the specialists. If a patient, who has undergone heavy chemotherapy and radiotherapy, is subjected to stem cell transplantation but not at the right moment when it is necessary, he/she is doomed to failure, and even death. Therefore, these standard operating procedures must be observed absolutely precisely.

Besides the familiar surgical technique, radiotherapy is another method for treatment of oncological diseases. Regarding the work at the Centre for Radiotherapy at "St. Marina" University Hospital, Dr. Marc Wygoda said that the achievements of the hospital in Varna were at an extremely high level.

"St. Marina" has been gaining reputation as one of the leading European medical centres over the last years thanks to the continuous introduction of innovations and the most advanced technologies", concluded Prof. Grupcheva. "For six months we have succeeded in developing a methodology, accrediting the Centre for Translational Medicine and Cellular Therapy and accomplishing the first autologous transplantations." According to the guests, the laboratory has real potential for the implementation of allotransplantation in the future, i.e. with material from a donor, but at the time being the team intends to focus on the performance of autologous transplantation.