A stem cell transplant using her baby brother’s cord blood cells has cured Harshita Aggarwal, 8, of thalassaemia — a rare genetic blood disease that affects 1.7 lakh people, forcing them to undergo blood transfusions regularly.
In India, this is the second time a child has been cured of this lifelong blood disorder using cord blood cells. So far, the only treatment available treatment in India was a bone marrow transplant. “In the normal process, if there's a damaged tissue, stem cells come into action and start rebuilding it. What we are trying is to increase the concentration of stem cells in the body to help the rebuilding process,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman, Medanta-The Medicity.
Aggarwal received cord blood stem cells from her brother, Yuvraj, 2, whose cord blood was preserved at birth for treating Harshita, who is in Delhi with her grandmother Krishna Aggarwal.
“About a couple of years ago, when I was in Delhi for Harshita's treatment, I happened to see an article on cord blood stem cell banking and how it could help cure certain blood-related diseases. I contacted people at Cryobanks International India, who told me everything about stem cell banking. So, when my daughter-in-law conceived again, we decided to preserve the cord blood cells,” said Krishna Aggarwal, 62, who travelled to Delhi for transfusions every month for eight years, from her hometown in Patna, Bihar.
Dr Dharma Chaudhary, a transplant physician at Cryobanks International India, administered the treatment in December 2009.
“We waited a year because the treatment can be called a success only if the body does not reject the implanted cells for one year,” he said.
“Blood from a newborn's discarded umbilical cord is saved after birth because it is the richest source of stem cells. These cells can be saved for 21 years and used to treat genetic diseases, if the need arises. After the transplant, patients only take immuno-suppressant drugs to avoid rejection of the implanted foreign cells,” said Dr Chaudhary.
Cord blood stem cells can be banked at a monthly cost of R3,500 for 21 years. Later, the contract can be renewed. A stem cell transplant surgery costs about R14 lakh in India, which is one-tenth the cost in the US, where it costs R1.5 core.
“Less than 1% of India's population knows of it at the moment. It is an expensive proposition presently, but we are in the process of creating a public stem cell bank, which will bring down the cost,” said Ravi Jaipuria, chairman, RJ Corp, that owns Cryobanks International India.