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Times of India
10 Apr 2009
By Prithvijit Mitra

Leukaemia and thalassaemia patients in Kolkata will soon have access to a list of donors for stem cell replacement. Within a year, the city will have a register of people willing to help those suffering from these two haematological diseases and other genetic disorders that can only be cured through stem cell therapy.

Legendary cancer researcher Dr John Goldman considered to be the father of stem cell treatment has taken the initiative to prepare the register for four metros in India, including Kolkata. The register holds out hope for 2 lakh patients in India who are candidates for a stem cell transplant, including about 20,000 in Kolkata.

“We will soon advertise asking people to sign up as donors. It is a simple procedure. All that they need to do is register their saliva and blood samples. We shall store the sample data in our register and when a patient applies for a stem cell transplant, we shall match the data and let the patient know if we have a donor ready,” said Goldman, who is here to attend a workshop on haematology and oncology. With assistance from a team of oncologists in India, the doctor–cum–researcher will soon launch a “publicity mechanism” to let people know about stem cell replacement and inspire them to turn donors.

Several stem cell replacements have been done in the city in recent years. The therapy involves destroying the patient’s stem cells and replacing those with that of the donor’s. The new cells help to generate disease–free cells that cure blood cancer (chronic myeloid leukaemia), aplastic aneamia and thalassaemia among other genetic diseases. Usually, stem cells are taken from the patients’ siblings. But there is no guarantee of a human leukocyte antigen (HLA) match that is a prerequisite for the procedure.

“So, one must take the help of external donors. It is a risky procedure and if the therapy fails, the patient can die. But it’s worth taking a chance for there is no other cure for these ailments. So far, the success rate of stem cell therapy has been high. But first, we need a data bank of donors. If we can get 5,000–6,000 donor registrations to begin with, we shall be happy. But we need more than a million donors nationally for India,” added the UK–based researcher.

Mumbai will be the first city to have the data bank, complete with the donor’s names, addresses, age and an analysis of their blood and saliva samples. Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata are going to have the register by this year–end. “It will allow patients access to a donor within 24 hours. Without a donor in the family, chances of finding a donor are slim. In the UK, we have more than 4 million registered donors,” Goldman said.

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