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Thursday, 17 September 2009

Stem Cell therapy success: Brother's blood is boon of life in Chennai

Misuse of Pre-natal diagnostic techniques and Eugenics is a shocking Crime. Which are the conditions for which Abortion is recommended?
Thalassaemia is NOT a deadly disease.
Ethical decisions need to be fine-tuned in India.

Stem Cell therapy success: Brother's blood is boon of life in Chennai
17 September 2009
CHENNAI: Senthil Kumar and Sarojini were shattered when their 18-month-old daughter, Thamirabharani, was diagnosed with thalassaemia. The blood disorder left the infant, born in 2000, at the mercy of transfusions and with little energy for anything else.

Sarojini aborted her next two pregnancies, fearing a repeat of the disorder in her children and it began to look like Thamirabharani would have neither a good life nor a sibling. Today, she has both -- and, to double the family's joy, her brother also turned out to be her saviour.

Giving a happy ending to a poignant family tale and raising fresh hope of leveraging stem cell therapy, a group of doctors and specialists in Chennai and Coimbatore have registered the first successful treatment of thalassaemia in a child using a sibling's umbilical cord blood. Stem cells extracted from the cord blood during Pugazhendi's birth were transplanted in Thamirabharani in March. After the mandatory five months' observation period, doctors on Wednesday announced Thamirabharani cured of thalassaemia.

The genetic disorder that affects production of haemoglobin in red blood cells carrying oxygen to various parts of the body has remained a challenge to doctors the world over. ``Thamira looked and behaved healthy for more than a year. Then, one day she suddenly went pale. Doctors initially treated her for jaundice, but when she did not recover, they did a blood test,'' said Kumar, a carpenter from Coimbatore.
``That's when I first heard the word thalassaemia.''

Doctors at the Coimbatore Medical College told Kumar his daughter should undergo blood transfusion every month. ``When we first saw her, she was very anaemic and needed frequent transfusion,'' said Dr V Bhooma, assistant professor of paediatrics at the medical college.

Every month, Thamirabharani's little hands were pricked. ``It hurt,'' she recalled. Despite transfusion, she continued to be weak. ``She would complain of pain in her legs. She was not able to play with her friends,'' said Sarojini, a housewife. ``I aborted my second pregnancy. A few months later, I was pregnant again. This time I consulted a doctor.''

That was when Dr R Thiruveni, obstetrician-gynaecologist at Sri Krishna Speciality Hospital in Coimbatore, advised her to go in for a prenatal diagnostic test to determine if the child would have thalassaemia. Fifteen days later, a Chennai lab confirmed that the foetus had the disorder. Sarojini went in for another abortion.

The couple then met Dr Revathy Raj, consultant pediatric haemato-oncologist, Apollo Speciality Hospital, Chennai. ``We told the doctor that we had decided not to have any more children, but she advised us to have another baby. She told us that the cord blood from a healthy baby could be used for Thamira's treatment. We were still scared, but decided to give it a try,'' said Kumar.

Sarojini became pregnant again, and this time, luck smiled on the couple. Tests showed that the fetus had healthy blood cells. LifeCell, which banks cord blood cells, offered to store the stem cells for free. After Sarojini's delivery in a Coimbatore hospital, the cord blood cells were brought to the Chennai laboratory, where it was processed and stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius.

But it was still a long road ahead for Thamirabharani. The couple kept their fingers crossed because the tissues had to match. The test showed a perfect match. Then came another challenge: they needed Rs 10 lakh for the therapy Thamirabharani had to undergo. ``As I could not afford treatment, I requested NGOs and philanthropists. Everyone helped willingly,'' said Kumar.

Finally, Thamirabharani underwent chemotherapy so that existing disease cells in the bone marrow were destroyed before the transplant happened. ``I lost all my hair. They even shaved off what was remaining when I was taken in for treatment in March. I was scared. I thought they would prick my veins again. But doctors made me feel comfortable,'' said Thamirabharani, with Pugazhendi tugging at her skirt.

``Since then, her haemoglobin level has been maintained at 12.5 gm/dl. She does not carry diseased cells anymore,'' said Lifecell scientific officer Dr Ajit Kumar. ``These siblings share a special bond. We have now decided to offer stem cell banking free of cost for poor people with children who have curable disorders,'' he said.

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