11/29/2012 02:25 EST | Updated 01/29/2013 05:12 EST

Nazdana Jan, Winnipeg Baby Girl With Rare Disorder, Undergoes Experimental Treatment In Calgary

CALGARY - An infant girl from Winnipeg has undergone an experimental transplant procedure in Calgary — believed to be the first of its kind in Canada.

Nazdana Jan was born with an urea cycle disorder, a genetic disease that causes ammonia to build up in the body.

Doctors at the Alberta Children's Hospital say if left untreated, the disease would lead to brain damage and death.

The best treatment is a liver transplant but Dr. Aneal Khan says it is a very tricky procedure in such a small child.

So Khan, a medical geneticist, and other doctors performed a series of liver cell transplants, with the healthy cells keeping the baby's ammonia levels down.

The aim is to stabilize the baby's ammonia levels until she is big enough for a liver transplant, and Khan says the girl is currently doing so well, she is heading back to Winnipeg this weekend.

"She was really in hospital for only about seven days ... and she's actually been discharged from hospital and being monitored in clinic every few days," Khan said Thursday.

"If you were to look at her, for all intents and purposes, she looks like a normal healthy baby."

Liver cell transplants have only been performed about 20 times around the world, Khan said, mostly in Germany and the United States.

"We give the cells, which are basically a bag of liver cells that are taken from a liver donor, and inject them into a special blood vessel that goes into the liver."

Ammonia is naturally produced in the human body. People with urea cycle disorders have a reduced ability to converting ammonia to urea, which is harmless. The condition is incurable and rare.

About 50 babies are born in Canada each year with the condition, the hospital said.

Baby Nazdana is now being monitored and, because the cell transplant is akin to a full organ transplant, is on anti-rejection drugs.

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