Doctors at New Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital performed India’s first unrelated stem cell transplant on a one-year-old Pakistani boy on March 15.
Shaheer Imran had familial HLH, a rare disorder where the body’s immune system over reacts and starts eating up its own defence cells. The baby was in immediate need of a bone marrow transplant.
But since he did not have any siblings and had no donor in the family who matched his profile, doctors approached the Reliance Cord Bank in Mumbai.
Two cord blood units matching his profile were procured from the bank. Cord blood is obtained from the umbilical cord of a newborn and is used to treat various blood-related and genetic disorders, as it contains stem cells.
First unit, with a 5/6 match, did not have adequate cell dose, which means there were not enough cells capable of reproducing. To remain on the safe side, the doctors transplanted the other unit (with 4/6 match) as well.
“We just wanted to ensure that if one unit doesn’t work, the other one did,” said Dr Anupam Sachdeva, senior consultant, department of paediatrics, Ganga Ram.
It took Rs 2.5 lakh to procure each cord blood unit, and the entire procedure cost the family Rs 17 lakh. In the United States, the same procedure will cost around Rs 2.5 crore.
In India, less than 10 cord blood transplants have been conducted so far. “We need more BMT centres in India. Our BMT programme in 2007 was a step to fill in the gap to some extent,” said Dr B.K. Rao, chairperson, Ganga Ram.