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Press Release

A Look Behind the Scenes of Connecting the Dots with Dr. Nina Worel


Nina Worel's curiosity outgrew her childhood dreams.

Growing up among the vineyards in the scenic 19th district of Vienna, she had a vision of being a nurse and helping people. Her mother convinced her to finish high school and apply to medical school, and Nina liked the idea of getting to research and develop new treatment therapies for persistent diseases like cancer.

Now, 30 years later, Dr. Worel is the Medical Director of the therapeutic and preparative apheresis unit at the Transfusion Medicine and Cell Therapy Department of the Medical University of Vienna—and without a lot of free time.

"Nowadays, people tend to have more life than work, but for me work was always my life," she says.

nina.pngA one-hour jog through vineyards or the Vienna Woods often starts her mornings. The runner's high helps her process fresh ideas and plan research protocols and meetings in a tranquil setting before she submerses herself in the hustle and bustle and din of the patients, donors, and beeping electronic devices that populate the busy department.

The unit is where Dr. Worel and the transplant team treated Michael "Michi" Astl—who had already had two rounds of chemotherapy—with stem cells donated from his sister, Liz Astl. "She was like a blossom tree—really strong," says Dr. Worel.

Dr. Worel used a Spectra Optia® Apheresis System from Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies (Terumo BCT). Over a four- to six-hour period, Spectra Optia drew blood from one of Liz's arms and used continuous-flow centrifugation and optical detection technology to separate the blood components and stem cells, and continuously reinfused the remaining components in her other arm. The stem cells were then transplanted into Michael.

For Michael, who was going downhill quickly, the transformation was noticeable.

"The story of Michi shows why cells are needed," says Dr. Worel. "You could see how he was changing. You could recognize that there was a period where he was not so well, and then he improved."

It is a tale Dr. Worel would like to repeat, globally. She is a member of the Worldwide Network for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, which works with the World Health Organization (WHO) to help drive stem cell transplantation in regions where it is currently not established due to a lack of experience and high cost. One region is the greater Pakistan region, where Dr. Worel recently participated in a workshop.

"Austria has eight to nine million inhabitants, and Pakistan has 230 million inhabitants," says Dr. Worel. "So, just comparing the number of inhabitants and the number of transplants performed, it is obvious that there is a higher need. We tried to help them establish more protocols and get resources from their government just to increase their capacity."

Currently, there are over 40 million volunteer donors globally registered1. The chance of a match is only one in 100,000.

These are some reasons why Dr. Worel and the department are excited about the Connecting the Dots video, an experience she thought was fascinating.

"It's always so interesting to see that you spend a long time shooting, and then you cut those things together to create a five-minute video—and it covers nearly everything," she explains. "It's like watching a film. You have the impression that hours pass in those few minutes, where your brain imagines what happens, what could happen, and what is happening at the moment."

Dr. Worel and her colleagues plan to loop the video in their hospital waiting room.

After all, it is important to raise awareness of the importance of donations—and you never know when you are going to get sick.

"We all have healthy cells in us that can be used as a gift for someone with a malignant disease or a disease that cannot be treated with other medication than healthy cells," says Dr. Worel. "We should all use the power we have with these cells to register as a donor and maybe be a donor in real life for one patient somewhere."

"The answer lies within all of us."

1https://wmda.info World Marrow Donor Association​

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