Given the complications caused in South Asia due to endogamy, health experts believe that at least half million donors required. NGOs should consider partnering with religious bodies (similar to the intervention for polio drops) to remove myths about stem cell donation (will cause pain and weakness in donors).
two-year-old Delhi boy suffering from thalassemia got a new lease of
life after a Bangalorean donated his blood stem cells to him.
the first reported case in India of a thalassemia patient receiving
blood stem cells from an unrelated donor.
Garvit Goel was
advised to go for a blood stem cell transplant a year ago. None of his
family members qualified to be potential donors. That’s when Sumeet
Mahjan (34), a software professional from MindTree, stepped in.
For Sumeet, the turning point came in 2011 when his colleague’s
11-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia. MindTree requested Datri,
an NGO working on networking stem cell donors to help people suffering
from blood disorders, to look for a potential donor. Datri conducted a
workshop and awareness campaign at MindTree to make techies aware of the
life-saving benefits of stem cell donation. The boy died, but the
sustained campaign ensured many registered their names for blood stem
“In January 2013, I was asked by Datri if I
could donate stem cells for a two-year-old thalassemia patient from
Delhi. I was chosen as a potential donor. After consulting Datri and the
doctors, I felt responsible and went ahead with donation,” Sumeet told
For five days Sumeet was given growth factor injections.
He then underwent a half day’s non-surgical procedure. “Garvit underwent
the unrelated peripheral blood stem cell transplant in April 2013 and
is now free from thalassemia and saved from the trouble of constant
blood transfusion. We need 3-5 million blood stem cells per kg of
recipient’s body weight. Over 150-200ml of blood was used,” says Dr
Dharma R Choudhary, director, BLK Super Specialty, New Delhi.
As per the rule book, the recipient’s details cannot be disclosed to the
donor till a year after the transplant. In March 2014, Sumeet met
Garvit in Delhi.
“I wanted to see him. After a year, I got the
chance. His parents were very humble and thankful. I was satisfied that
Garvit was healthy and normal like any other kid of his age,” says
Sumeet, himself a father of two. He was backed by his family.
Thalassemia is caused by variant or missing genes that affect the
production of haemoglobin. Nearly 12,000 babies are born in India every
year with this disorder. In fact, 10% of the world’s thalassemia
patients are from the Indian subcontinent, with 3-4% of them being
With very few
registered donors in India, the possibility of finding a genetically
matching donor for an Indian anywhere in the world is low. Datri Blood
Stem Cell Donors Registry is working towards creating a wide and diverse
database of potential donors who can be accessed by any patient, living
anywhere in the world, in need of life-saving blood stem cells.
Datri has facilitated 51 transplants.
there are four registries in India but only two are functional – DATRI, a
south India-based stem cell registry started in 2009 which has around
56,000 registered donors, and Marrow Donors Registry India at Tata
Memorial Hospital in Mumbai.
a result of evolutionary history, endogamy and consanguinity,
populations of the Indian subcontinent demonstrate high genetic
differentiation and extensive sub-structuring. Ancestry is unique to
India,” said Dr N.K. Mehra, head of Immunology and Immunogenetics at the
All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“Indian groups have inherited different proportions of ancestry from
the ancestral North Indians and the ancestral South Indians. Hence,
consistent with social history, northern regions show closer affinities
with Indo-European speaking populations of central Asia as compared to
those inhabiting southern regions.”
Mehra said the southern Indian population may have been derived from early colonizers arriving from Africa. “This genetic matching is difficult to find for an Indian donor,” he said.
transplant from a healthy unrelated donor replaces flawed stem cells
with healthy ones that can generate healthy red blood cells and cure
Thalassemia. The goal of the transplant is to rebuild the recipient’s
blood cells and immune system and cure the underlying ailment, and avoid
or obviate the need for frequent blood transfusions.
“The existence of a large variety of alleles and haplotypes (genetic
components), both unique and representative of other ethnic groups in
the Indian subcontinent, poses additional challenges in the
transplantation context, particularly with regard to hematopoietic stem
cell transplantation,” Mehra said.
after patients find suitable donors, there are low chances of the donor
turning up due to myths related to donation like pain and weakness,
successful transplant, the donor and recipient should have a matching
set of genes known as Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA). At least one third
of patients have a chance of finding an identical set of HLAs within
their family while two-thirds are dependent on unrelated donors.