The extensive research on stem cells has revolutionised the way life-threatening diseases like leukaemia and aplastic anaemia can be treated.
But there are several steps before these diseases can be treated using stem cells.
To begin with, the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA)-typing of the patient is done. Doctors then get into the process of finding a matched donor from the computerised list made available to them by National Marrow Donor Programme (NMDP), U.S., and New York Cord Blood Bank.
If registration of potential bone marrow donors has been in place for a long time, the emergence of a number of cord blood banks, both public and private, which store the stem cells has gone a long way in helping doctors.
Finding a match is just the first step. However, it takes at least three months to procure matched bone-marrow stem cells. It takes just two weeks in the case of cord blood stem cells.
The three-month waiting period in the case of bone marrow arises as locating the matched donor very often becomes difficult.
It requires a minimum of one to three working days to import the stem cells once the match has been found.
“We transfuse blood and platelets to aplastic anaemia patients to sustain them till such time matched stem cells are located, procured and transplanted,” said Dr. Revathy Raj, Consultant Paediatric Haemato Oncologist, Apollo Speciality Hospital, Chennai. “In the case of leukaemia, patients undergo a cycle of chemotherapy in the interim period.”
An important point worthy of mention is that the bone marrow donor is not required to come to the hospital where the patient is, but rather could go to a nearest hospital in the U.S. to donate his stem cells.
In India there are not enough registered bone marrow donors, nor are there proper facilities to harvest bone marrow. Hence the bone marrow cells have to be obtained from organisations like NMDP. The lack of adequate number of donors also results in very slim chances of finding a match in India.
India fares better in the case of cord blood banks. India has two public banks — Reliance in Mumbai and Jeevan Stem Cell Bank in Chennai. But even these banks have only a handful of units. This makes the chances of finding a match very remote.
Though there are a good number of private cord blood banks in the country, they are of little use to the public. Stem cells banked in these places are made available only to the immediate relative of the donor.
from The Hindu