New Apheresis unit revolutionises transfusion medicine in UAE

The UAE has always been lauded for its blood transfusion security services and now the recent introduction of apheresis is further revolutionizing blood transfusion medicine and placing the country on the global healthcare map.

Sheikh Shakhbout Medical City (SSMC), a joint venture partnership between Abu Dhabi Health Services Company (SEHA) and Mayo Clinic, recently established an ssApheresis Unit as part of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. The brand new unit, which is the only one of its kind in the UAE, will be part of the transfusion medicine services.

Transfusion medicine is a branch of medicine that includes laboratory testing for blood components, clinical transfusion practices, patient blood management, and apheresis. The apheresis unit will support a variety of specialties including hematology and oncology, nephrology, neurology, dermatology and the bone marrow transplant program.

dr Hiba AlHumaidan, Consultant Clinical Pathologist and Head of Transfusion Medicine and Apheresis Unit at SSMC, said: “Our new apheresis unit has provided us with state-of-the-art technology that will provide additional support for some of our key specialties such as hematology and oncology. “

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“The potential of the transfusion medicine service is incredibly exciting, we are able to support the treatment of a wide variety of conditions and with plans for continued growth, we can provide new technologies and procedures to help more people in the UAE who may be eligible are for such treatments,” she added.

Among the first cases successfully treated by transfusion medicine was 64-year-old Emirati Mohamed Al-Shehhi, who was diagnosed with a very rare lymphoma of the skin (cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, also known as Sezary syndrome) in mid-July 2019.

Al-Shehhi received various treatments in the United Arab Emirates for eight months without any improvement and was recommended extracorporeal photopheresis therapy (ECP), a non-surgical apheresis procedure in which white blood cells are separated, treated with specific drugs and then UVA light exposed during a visit to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA. While Al-Shehhi experienced significant improvement with this therapy at the Mayo Clinic, the treatment was not available in the United Arab Emirates at the time.

“Having access to this treatment here in my home country has made a huge difference for me and means I no longer have to travel abroad for long periods of time to get treatment,” said Al-Shehhi.

dr Mustaqeem Siddiqui, Vice Chair and Practice Chair and Consultant in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at SSMC, stated: “As a pioneer in complex, human-centred care, we are extremely excited to introduce this technology and innovative treatment for the benefit of all people of the UAE. This is really transforming healthcare in the region and further putting Abu Dhabi on the global healthcare map.”

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dr Nikita Singh, Specialist in Internal Medicine at Aster Clinic, Business Bay, said that in 2017 the UAE was declared the Haemovigilance Capital of the World. Hemovigilance is the process of reporting adverse transfusion effects to ensure the safety and effectiveness of blood transfusions. “Blood transfusions as such can be a double-edged sword in that while transfusions can have unwanted and harmful side effects, they can prove life-saving when the right resources are available, as in the United Arab Emirates,” she said.

She added, “We have now made a major leap in transfusion medicine with the recent introduction of apheresis, which has revolutionized transfusion medicine. As a doctor, I am very excited to see this innovative technology in the UAE. This is a tremendous advance in the field of ever-evolving medicine.”

according to dr AlHumaidan, as it is a supportive treatment, successful improvements in symptoms are seen in almost all apheresis cases. “Apheresis is a supportive treatment to a larger treatment plan for patients and as such it is difficult to state the success rate as there are indications that are a very successful Category 1 and then a Category 3. But in general it is successful when used according to guidelines.”

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Apheresis is a medical procedure that helps treat more than 80 different conditions and diseases. To do this, the blood in the patient’s veins is fed through tubes to a machine that separates the blood into its components. The diseased component is either removed or replaced while the remaining blood components are reinfused back into the patient.

The entire process can take between two and four hours.


  • Since the opening of the apheresis unit in June 2021, 425 procedures have been performed
  • The number of procedures has increased from three per month to currently 55-60 per month.
  • Each patient may require anywhere from 1 procedure to >20 procedures depending on condition and protocol
  • Of these procedures, 80 photopheresis procedures have been performed (since March/April 2022 initiation) for eight patients, all enrolled in a specific program with a specific protocol that varies from person to person

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