After the country’s first bone marrow registry at Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH) matched nine donors with bone marrow transplant seekers despite having a mere 25,000 listed donors, experts are convinced that if the donor base is widened further, it could change the way some blood disorders are treated in India.
The Marrow Donor Registry of India (MDRI) crossed the landmark figure of 25,000 donors in May 2015, as against 889 listed donors in 2009, when it was launched. It has achieved the difficult feat of enabling two transplants between persons unrelated to each other, one of which took place in August 2014 and the other in April 2015, with two city youngsters donating their marrow cells to help a leukaemia patient and a thalassemia patient conquer their diseases.
People with blood cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anaemia and other life-threatening diseases rely on bone marrow or cord blood transplants to save their lives. Experts said the fact that doctors could match 10 donor samples with recipients proves the potential of such a registry. “If you look at statistics from some of the developed countries then the ratio for a full match is approximately 1:20,000. If we compare that with ours, taking a base of 25,000, we have managed to find nine full matches. That ratio is in the range of 1:1000-3000,” said Dr Navin Khattry, medical oncologist at Advanced Center for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (Actrec) and general secretary, MDRI. “The key reason for the good unrelated match ratio is that unlike in the western countries, India has a genetically varied population set, which is much more heterogeneous.”
The registry does face challenges. Haematologist Dr Sunil Parekh, founding member and chairman of MDRI, said, “Lack of awareness among people continues to be a major concern. Another problem is of donors backing out. And, of course, funding is a concern from time to time.”
The Search Process
* A doctor seeking a bone marrow transplant for a patient can do a free preliminary search of the MDRI. When a doctor submits such a request, he will include the applicant’s HLA tissue typing (A tissue type test is a blood test that identifies substances called antigens on the surface of body cells and tissues. Checking the antigens can tell if donor tissue is safe for transplant to another person.), data which is necessary to match you to your potential donors.
* Further testing is needed to find out which, if any, of the potential donors are suitable. After more advanced testing, the transplant physician will arrange for the collection of stem cells from the donor and their proper transportation to the transplant centre. Registries across the world are interlinked.
What is a bone marrow transplant?
* Healthy marrow and blood cells are needed to live. When blood cancers or other blood disorders such as aplastic anaemia and thalassemia affect the marrow such that it cannot function properly, a marrow or cord blood transplant could be the best treatment option and, for some patients, the only potential cure.
* A bone marrow transplant takes a donor’s healthy blood-forming cells and puts them into the patient’s bloodstream, where they begin to grow and make healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. On the day of the transplant, the patient receives the donated cells in a process that is like getting blood or medicine through an intravenous catheter or tube.
How to become a donor with MDRI
Interested persons can either go online at http://www.mdrindia.org/ or visit the MDRI office at SL Raheja Hospital in Mahim and collect the form. The registered donor’s blood sample is then collected for testing.