Medical miracles keep happening in Building 10

Deidra Williams recalls decades of crises. She had “pretty much
from birth lived in the hospital system.”

Then she found a
sort of superhospital, the subject of a new cable series. Simply
called “Building 10” of the National Institutes of Health, it
seeks new approaches.

“The NIH is the
largest funder of medical research in the world,” said John
Hoffman, the Discovery Channel's chief of documentaries and specials.

It seeks huge
challenges; Williams fit that. “The only treatment for
sickle-cell,” she said, “was probably to have pain medication
.... When we found NIH, it was my last end.”

Dr. John Tisdale, at
the NIH, agrees. “There (was) only one FDA-approved drug for sickle
cell disease at the time,” he said, and that was “really only for
pain medication. The average life span is about 42 years in this
disease; Deidra was very close to that age.”

Transplants work, he
said, but usually for kids. “Adults with sickle cell disease have
so much accumulated organ damage, they're just not eligible.”

Williams was saved
by stem cells from her sister. That could lead to bigger things,
Tisdale said. “One can envision ... getting her own cells,
modifying them in some way to fix them, and then putting them back.
(That idea) is moving quickly.”

Not all Building 20
stories have happy endings. Carla Cooper said her son had acute
lymphoblastic leukemia at 20. After five years of treatment and
remission, he joined an NIH study. “He didn't make it, but it gave
us the time with him, which was really important to us.”

These are clinical
trials that can often fail, Tisdale said. Sometimes, however, they
succeed thoroughly.

As Williams
recalled: “A patient there said, 'This place should really be
called the National Institute of Hope.”

-- “First in
Human,” Discovery Channel

-- 9-11 p.m.
Thursdays, repeating at 11, on Aug. 10, 17 and 24