Mixed stem cell cure creates history

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KOLKATA: Five-year-old Moinam Pal, an e-beta thalassaemia patient, walked into medical history on Friday as the first Indian patient to be cured by mixed stem cell therapy.

The unique method of treatment that combines stem cells taken from cord blood as well as bone marrow works better than cord blood and bone marrow stem cell therapies administered in isolation.

Moinam received stem cells from his two-year-old sister Ahona`s cord blood on April 3 and was released on Friday from the Netaji Subhas Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) after a month of intense therapy. The youngster is stated to be on the path of recovery.

Carried out in three phases, the stem cell transplantation commenced with the destruction of Moinam`s existing bone marrow cells.

“We used conditioning chemotherapy for that and then stem cells from his sister, extracted from her cord blood and bone marrow, were injected into him. It was done in a highly-steralized chamber but required no surgery. Tests reveal that Moinam`s blood group has started changing from AB+ to B+, while female chromosomes have already appeared in his bone marrow which suggest he is well on the way to recovery and would soon be cured of thalassaemia,” said Ashish Mukhopadhyay, director NCRI who conducted the procedure.

Stem cells in the cord blood are not sufficient to wipe out thalassaemia. Often, the cell count in cord blood is not high enough. The result is a partial cure. Bone marrow stem cells, on the other hand, often lead to a Graft Versus Host Disease ( GVHD) which is triggered by the body`s defense mechanism while the transfusion is being done. “Taken together, the two therapies can complement each other and lead to a complete cure. In this case, the signs are there to suggest that the procedure has been successful,” explained Mukhopadhyay.

The combination therapy has been attempted successfully in Greece and China which have the highest number of thalassaemia patients in the world. Both the countries have tried it on one patient each, resulting in a complete cure. “It`s time we felt that we tried it here for thalassaemia patients have to live with a partial cure after pinning hopes on cord blood or bone marrow therapy. Both are expensive procedures but don`t g u a r a n tesuccess, ” a d d e d Mukhopadhyay. Moinam`s parents Ashim Kumar Pal and Manisha Pal were advised to go for a second child to acquire the cord blood needed to cure the boy.

Stem cell therapy is the only possible ray of hope for thalassaemia patients like Moinam. About 10,000 thalassaemic children are born in India each year. Most die before they turn 10 while the rest survive on transfusion. “Regular transfusions are both expensive and painful. So, stem cell therapy, particularly the mixed method that we have just carried out successfully, is the future. Storing cord blood will be necessary to take advantage of this procedure. Moinam`s recovery confirms that we have the required technology and facilities,” said Prosanto Chowdhury, medical director of CordLife India which had stored Ahona`s cord blood.

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This post was submitted by prashant agarwal.

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