For the first time in Calcutta's recorded medical history, a couple has taken recourse to stem cell preservation of its newborn.
Minutes after Sudarshan Nair's (name changed) birth at a private hospital on Thursday, experts from a Chennai-based institute took out 110 ml of blood from his umbilical cord and took it back in a special kit.
At the institute, Asia Cryo-Cell, the stem cells will be separated from the blood sample and stored for a long duration at a sub-zero temperature. If the child later gets afflicted with cancer, a metabolic or an inherited ailment or any chronic disease, the cells will be injected into him to replace the dead and infected cells.
'The Nairs, who have become parents for the first time, have added a new chapter to the city's healthcare. They did not want to take any chance with their son's future,' said Gautam Chatterjee, consultant gynaecologist at Bhagirathi Neotia Woman and Child Care Centre, where the baby was delivered.
Internationally, stem cells have proved to be 'very effective' in curing certain diseases, while experiments are on for some others.
'Stem cells are master cells responsible for producing all mature cells in the blood and immune system. They can produce white cells that fight infections, red cells that carry oxygen, platelets that promote clotting and also the good cells of our immune system,' Chatterjee said.
Doctors across the world prefer stem cells from the umbilical cord to those found in the bone marrow for two reasons:
Blood in the cord is loaded with such cells
Efficacy of cord stem cells to regenerate into any type of cells.
'Stem cells in the cord blood diminish the possibility of tissue mismatches, are rarely contaminated with latent viruses and grow faster,' explained physician Rajeev Seal, part of the three-member team monitoring Sudarshan.
Cord blood stem cells have been successfully used on several occasions to treat various types of malignancies, including certain kinds of leukaemia, Hodgkin's disease, anaemia, thalassaemia and other metabolic and inherited diseases.
Immediately after the pregnancy was confirmed, the Nairs got in touch with Chatterjee and expressed their desire to preserve their yet-to-be-born child's stem cells, sending doctors to a tizzy.
'The well-being of the mother and the child was in our hands and we took utmost care through regular monitoring. The child is fine now and should be released soon with his mother,' said neonatologist Tridip Banerjee.
At the Chennai centre, doctors will first check the blood to eliminate chances of any disease and use a special technique to separate the red blood cells and plasma from the white blood cells, which contain stem cells.
After the processing is done, the stem cells will be preserved with a cryo-protectant liquid and stored in cryo vials for years.