Kanav Aggarwal was diagnosed with thalassaemia 16 years ago, his father Atul, now 47, visited almost all the big hospitals in the country in hope of finding treatment for his son.
“Mumbai's Tata Memorial Hospital was the only hospital that had a research project on stem cells. We were the first couple to store cord blood of our second son with them, but when human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matching needed for the transplant failed, we donated it for research,” said Aggarwal.
Thalassaemia is a genetic blood disorder that forces an afflicted person to undergo blood transfusions two to three times a month. Bone-marrow transfusion is the only treatment.
Their search for a match even led the Aggarwals to register with the bone marrow transplant unit of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS). “Though we know we have lost time, but we haven't lost hope,” said Aggarwal. Kanav, a Class 12 student, needs a transfusion every 15 days.
With more and more people banking cord blood cells, the treatment the Aggarwals dreamed of has become a reality. Earlier this week, Delhi doctors announced the successful treatment of Harshita Aggarwal's thalassaemia. The eight-year-old was treated using stem cells from the banked cord blood of her younger brother.
Delhi businessman Atul Goel, who is the father of another thalassaemic Aadya, 4, planned his third child for her treatment after the HLA match with the second child failed. He is delighted that her match came positive at the Ganga Ram Hospital last w eek. “Having heard of Harshita”s success, my wife and I are hoping that our daughter will also ge cured,” said Goel.
Umbilical cord blood is a rich source of stem cells that help to rebuild damaged tissues. More than 100 diseases can be treated using cord cell transplant and therapy. “Things have significantly changed in a year, we now get 1,000 clients a month, which is double of what we got a year ago,” said Mayur Abhaya, executive director, Life Cell International. Over five years, it has banked for 35,000 people, of whom 20 have used the cells.
It’s not only people with inherited diseases that are doing it. “Even healthy couples are getting their cord blood preserved, more so now that there are so many research and development projects happening in India,” said Meghnath Roy Chowdhury, managing director, Cordlife India, a Kolkata-based bank. Within two years, 2,000 people have banked with them.
Some experts say its too early to announce success. “The chances of a match are miniscule. An overwhelming number goes waste, so it's better to bank in a public hospital where anyone in need can use them,” said a senior doctor at AIIMS. Most mothers see no harm in paying for a little as bio-insurance. “If it guarantees my child's life even by 1%, I wouldn't think twice spending for it,z said Upasana Goel, who got her baby's cord blood banked two weeks ago.