In what may come as a relief to over 1 lakh patients of thalassemia in India, a public sector stem cell bank is set to come up at UP’s King George’s Medical University here. A project of the university’s transfusion medicine department, the stem cell bank would roll out stem cell therapy to patients of thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia. The proposal is awaiting clearance from state department of medical education.
Stem cells are omnipotent and can take shape of any cell inside the body. If infused in the pancreas, stem cells will become pancreatic while in the liver, they will become liver cells.
These are found in human bone marrow and can be derived from the umbilical cord which contains blood vessels that connect baby in the womb to the mother to ingest nutrition required for development.
Research on the therapeutic use of stem cells is underway in US, Europe, China, South East Asia besides India. In UP, Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS) and KGMU are both trying to explore the potential of stem cells to treat various health problems. SGPGI has, so far, restricted itself to use of allogenic (stem cells derived from bone marrow of a person), while KGMU has used stem cells derived from the umbilical cord.
Head of transfusion medicine department of KGMU, Prof Tulika Chandra said, “Several private sector stem cell banks like Life Cell and Cord Life India are operating in India but they serve only those who have deposited the baby’s cord, while our bank will help everyone.”
KGMU has sustained access to umbilical cord because of a very developed obstetrics and gynaecology department. The cord is gathered from the placenta in the uterus of pregnant women which nourishes and maintains the baby through the umbilical cord.
Sources in medical education department said the proposal is worth Rs 9 crore including infrastructure cost. “Stem cell bank promises to become financially self-sustaining within 2-3 years of inception,” said a directorate officer.
Talking about why children with thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia were chosen, Chandra said, “Global literature shows umbilical cord stem cells can induce extraordinary results on such children. In fact, success rate is around 70-75% and higher score can be achieved if therapy is provided at an earlier age.”
Thalassemia is a genetic blood disorder in which human body’s mechanism to produce haemoglobin is faulty and the patients has to undergo blood transfusion every 2-3 weeks. Bone marrow transplantation is the next resort but then finding the correct match is not easy.
KGMU had initiated a registration process for stem cell therapy in February and so far 44 families have come forward. “Many parents of thalassemia patients go in for a second or third child so that the younger one can donate bone marrow for the elder sibling but that is not possible for many. A stem cell bank can help in such cases,” she said.
She added, “In thalassemics, when stem cells are infused into the bone marrow, they stimulate growth of normal cells. Over time, these normal cells outnumber the faulty cells.”
KGMU has undertaken pilot projects on use of umbilical cord blood stem cells on cases of spinal injury and unexplained death of cells in thigh bone.