Needed: More Stem Cell Donors

Contributing to a stem cell bank in India can save many lives given the shortage of stem cell donors of Indian origin.

Contributing to a stem cell bank in India can save many lives given the shortage of stem cell donors of Indian origin.

By Gayathri Shenoy

I cannot think of a single person that I know, whose life has not been touched by a friend’s or a family member’s struggle with leukaemia, lymphoma or a similar haematological disorder. It may not be immediate family. It could be extended family or a friend or the family of a friend.

And it touches our lives differently. When we hear of a small child dealing with leukaemia, it makes most of us hug our children just a little bit tighter. For some, it makes us donate financially to the cause. For others it makes us want to do something… anything that will help.

My first brush with this deadly disease was when my friend’s 9 year old son was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia (AML). He fought long and hard and finally, after a year long battle, earned his angel wings…for want of a match.

Stem cell donors of South Asian origin: A rarity

So what exactly was the ‘match’ that my friends beautiful son needed? What he needed was a stem cell donor whose genetic type matched his. His family did reach out to the world wide registries. There are about 50 registries worldwide. Unfortunately, a very small percentage of South Asians (Indians, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Bangladeshis) are registered to be stem cell donors. South Asians comprise approximately only 1% of the National Marrow Donor Registry in the U.S.

South Asians comprise approximately only 1% of the National Marrow Donor Registry…

The odds range from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in a 100,000 in identifying an unrelated compatible stem cell donor. A patient is more likely to find a possible match within his/her race/ethnicity. Hence, there is an urgent need to increase the number of South Asian stem cell donors.

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The need for a stem cell bank in India

That is when I knew that I had to do something… anything that would help prevent more losses. I looked up and found an organization called DATRI and since then have been associated with it.

DATRI is a non-profit organization that has been set up to help save lives of those suffering from life threatening disorders like leukaemia and lymphoma, among others.

With very few registered donors available in India, the possibility of finding a match for an Indian anywhere in the world is very bleak. DATRI is working towards creating a wide and diverse database of potential stem cell donors that can be accessed by any patient of South Asian origin, living anywhere in the world, in need of a stem cell transplant.

The basics of stem cell therapy

Stem cells come from a few source, usually come from the blood (peripheral bloodstem cell transplant) or from the bone marrow (bone marrow transplant). Another source of stem cells is umbilical cord blood.

Peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) obtained from circulating blood can also be used instead of bone marrow cells. The amount of stem cells found in the peripheral blood is much smaller than the amount of stem cells found in the bone marrow. PBSC transplants have shown faster immune recovery when compared to bone marrow transplants. It also reduces the potential for disease recurrence.

Join the registry: Anyone aged 18 – 50 who meets the health guidelines can join.

Becoming a stem cell donor

So what are the steps towards being a donor?

1) Join the registry: Anyone aged 18 – 50 who meets the health guidelines can join. Volunteers should be committed to helping any patient. To join, you need to complete a short health questionnaire and sign a form stating that you understand what it means to be listed on the Registry. Then a swab of cheek cells is taken to find your HLA (human leukocyte antigen) type, which is the biological identity of a human being. You are then added to the Registry.

2) Stay committed: Doctors search the Registry to find a donor whose HLA type matches their patient’s. If you are chosen, a member of Datri will contact you. If you agree, more testing will be scheduled.

3) Master health check up: If you agree to donate, you will be given a physical exam to discover if donating would pose any special risks to you or the patient.

4) Donation: PBSC donation takes place at an apheresis center. To increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream, donors receive daily injections (which are growth factors) for five days before the collection. The blood is then taken from the arm and the extra stem cells are extracted and the remaining blood is returned to the donor.

Most of you are wondering about side effects at this point. Some common side effects include headache, or bone or muscle aches. This is a side effect of the filgrastim injections that you receive to increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream. These effects disappear shortly after the collection.The donor health remains unaffected.

My friend lost her son. The battle may have been lost but the war goes on.

So go ahead…and bleed for a cause. Visit DATRI at http://www.datriworld.organd request for your donor kit today!

*Photo credit: Gulf Coast Regional Blood Center (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)


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