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Stem cell donors needed

Software engineer Kartikeya Rindani, who was suffering from leukaemia, died of an infection on December 30.

mumbai Updated: Jan 04, 2010 01:01 IST
Neha Bhayana

Software engineer Kartikeya Rindani, who was suffering from leukaemia (blood cancer), died of an infection on December 30.

If India had more willing stem cell donors and he had got the needed transplant, the 38-year-old Pune resident would have survived to see 2010.

Rindani had undergone several cycles of chemotherapy but the disease relapsed in the first week of November.

In such cases, a transfusion of stem cells taken from bone marrow is the only hope for a cure. But tests revealed that none of Rindani’s family members were eligible to donate stem cells — one has to have the same genetic tissue type as the patient.

The family checked with the Marrow Donor Registry (India) — a database of unrelated donors that was started at Parel’s Tata Memorial Hospital nine months ago — but none of the 2,000 registered donors had the required tissue type.

They finally found a match on an international registry. But it was too late by then.

“We had sent Kartikeya’s blood sample to the US for testing and finalised a donor. We were trying to get the mandatory clearances from the Customs, drug department and the local police to bring the stem cells to India,” said Rindani’s father Girish.

“If only we had found a donor in India, Kartikeya could have been saved,” added sister Devangi.

The Rindanis’ plight mirrors that of 40,000 Indian families who lose their loved ones to blood–related diseases, like leukaemia and thalassemia, every year.

Stem cell transplant is an established treatment for these diseases but few can go for it, as the chance of finding a suitable donor in the family is only 25 per cent.

The Marrow Donor Registry (India) was started in April to facilitate transplants but not enough people have signed up.

“We need a pool of at least 10 lakh donors in India to increase the chances of finding a suitable match,” said Dr Pravin Clement, who handles the database.

Dr Sunil Parekh, who was instrumental in setting up the registry, pointed out that stem cell transplants have saved countless lives in the West. “Over 1.3 crore donors are registered with 70 registries around the world. Majority of patients find unrelated donors through it,” he said, adding that transplant can completely cure the disease in 40 per cent of cases.

So far, the families of around 20 patients from across the country have contacted the Indian registry but none have found a match yet.

Sreenivas Addepalli, who is currently on chemotherapy at Tata Memorial Hospital, is one of them.

His brother’s tissue type did not match so he is praying to find an unrelated donor. “I want to get better and go back to work,” said the 40-year-old architect, who had to quit his job after a relapse of leukaemia.