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Expert wants central bank for cord blood

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 23.03.12
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A nodal public stem-cell bank in India is the need of the hour if blood cancer and thalassaemia patients are to benefit from stem-cell therapy, according to an expert.

“We need an indigenous inventory of 30,000 units of umbilical cord-blood stem-cells, which would enable seven out of 10 patients seeking stem-cell transplant to find a ready match off the shelves,” said P. Srinivasan, a pioneer in public cord-blood banking in the country, addressing members of the Ladies Study Group of the Indian Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

Cord blood, also called “placental blood”, is the blood remaining in the umbilical cord and placenta following childbirth after the cord is cut, and is routinely discarded with the placenta and umbilical cord as biological waste.

A rich source of stem cells, cord blood can be used to treat over 80 diseases, including certain cancers like leukaemia, breast cancer, blood disorders like thalassaemia major and autoimmune disorders like lupus, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis.

Early clinical studies suggest these can even help avert corneal degeneration and restore vision in cases of blindness, help restore proper cardiac function to heart attack sufferers and improve movement in patients with spinal cord injury.

“Since stem-cell matching is highly ethnicity dependent, the chances of an Indian finding a perfect match in a foreign country is a lot less compared to a resource pool of locally-donated units,” the former resource person for WHO, now the chairman and managing trustee of Jeevan Blood Bank and Research Centre in Chennai, added.

Even if someone finds a match abroad, the cost of shipping the bag of matching cord blood could be as high as $40,000, as against the Rs 30,000 required for processing and storing one unit indigenously.

Srinivasan felt reaching the critical mass of 30,000 cord-blood units wasn’t a big deal, given the fact that 20 million babies are born in India every year.

Purnima Dutta, the president of Ladies Study Group, agreed that raising awareness on the need to donate umbilical cord blood was the key.

“As women and responsible citizens, the onus is on us to spread the word and encourage young couples to come forward and donate cord blood to ensure we can achieve this desired public-bank inventory which can save valuable lives,” she said.

Haematologists stress that 60 per cent of all blood cancers and 80 per cent of thalassaemias can be cured by stem cells if the right match is found on time. Stem cell therapy is now a huge market, estimated to go up to $22 billion by end-2012, according to a Frost & Sullivan study.

The Indian market is estimated to touch $600 million by the end of this year.