KOCHI: When Nalini Ambadi, a leading social psychologist based in the U.S., was diagnosed with leukaemia, the only treatment option suggested by the doctors was bone marrow, or stem cell transplantation.
The family members and friends of Nalini, who is a native of Kerala, launched a global campaign to find a suitable bone marrow donor. Though 13 potential donors were identified, none of them was willing for a transplantation. Nalini died in 2013.
It is learned that the misconceptions and lack of awareness attached to stem cell donation restrict people from donating bone marrow, which is a very simple procedure like blood donation.
“Men fear that bone marrow donation would affect their virility, while women are afraid of losing their fertility,” said Dr Shruthi Prem, associate professor of medical oncology, at RCC, Thiruvananthapuram.
“The serious nature of a diseases like cancer, for which bone marrow transplantation is prescribed as a treatment, make them too nervous to donate. It is the stem cell of siblings the gives the best result to the patient. Normally, even if the siblings are ready to donate, their spouses do not permit it due to fear. Besides, the donors usually brood on questions such as what would be the ramifications when they loose their stem cells?. The fact is that stem cells multiply infinitely, and within two to four days their count becomes normal,” she pointed out. “Across the country, there are around 60,000 registered donors, which is considerably low when compared to country’s population. It would not be sufficient even to treat 10 per cent of the patients. But, the main trouble is that after registration many of them back-off at the eleventh hour. Above all, people are not willing to donate if there is no emotional connection with the patient. In the West, there are around 14 billion donors who have come out in volition, which would be sufficient to treat 80 per cent of the patients,” she added.
When asked whether the procedure is 100 per cent safe, Dr Neeraj Sidharthan, associate professor at the stem cell transplant division of the AIMS, Kochi, said,” no medical procedures can be said to be 100 per cent safe. But, stem cell transplantation is relatively safe. Around one thousand stem cell transplantations were conducted at the CMC, Vellore. All of them were successful. Definitely, it is not as risky as organ donation.”
An injection is administered to multiply the stem cells. Normally, only 0.1 per cent of the stem cells flow out of the pelvis with blood. The injection increases the stem cell content in the blood, which is collected for the procedure. To check whether the stem cell of the donor matches that of the patient, cells are collected from the cheek using a cotton swab. From the DNA, it can be identified whether it is compatible or not,” he said. Dr Shruthi says it takes 4 to 5 hours to collect stem cell. “No blood will be lost. patient will only experience a mild pain when the injection is administered,” she said.