Thalassemia Cure Needs ‘Government Will’ Pill
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09 May 2011
By Shailvee Sharda
PGI Can Go For Stem Cell Transplants If Hepa Filter Unit Starts
A little push can lead to a big leap in thalassemia curative treatment here. Thalassemia is a rare genetic blood disorder marked by anemia that affects normal functioning of organs. Its management involves regular blood transfusion and chelation therapies (a procedure to get rid of excess iron in the body accumulated due to transfusions).
"Stem cells usage in thalassemia is no longer an area of research. All over the world, stem cells transplant has been established as standard curative treatment for thalassemia," Prof Sonia Nityananda of SGPGI’s hematology department said.
On the possibility of conducting stem cell transplant in SGPGI, she said, "We can and in fact we do undertake stem cell transplants here. But so far, we have not received any thalassemia case from the department of genetics. Presently, we can go handle sureshot cases but once our hepa filter unit is ready, we can treat complicated cases too." About when the unit would be ready, she refused to give a time frame but said unit might become functional "very soon".
Stem cells are found inside the bone marrow that make red blood cells and other types of blood cells. Blood and marrow stem cell transplant involves replacement of faulty stem cells with healthy ones derived from the donor. "A stem cell transplant is the only treatment that can cure thalassemia. But only a small number of people are able to find a good donor match and the procedure is risky," reads the US health department website.
Hematology expert with Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University, Prof AK Tripathi, affirmed the same. "The biggest hurdle is cost of treatment which could be anything between Rs 10-15 lakh which makes it unaffordable for many patients," Tripathi said.
He said the treatment cost can be brought down if government agencies, NGOs and big companies through their corporate social responsibility arm come together. CSMMU too is going to have a full fledged hematology department very soon. He added that finding a perfect donor is a challenging task.
"Siblings are the best donors and a lot of counseling is needed to convince parents to go in for next child when the first one is suffering from the disease. Thalassemia carriers leading to the birth of normal child also involves money," he said. Isha Gohel, a girl from Saurashtra, underwent the stem cell transplant surgery in April last.