Patrick PaulMay 28, 2021 15:27:18 IST
As per the GLOBOCAN 2020 report, every year, over one lakh people are being diagnosed in India with a form of blood cancer such as lymphoma, leukemia and multiple myeloma. Blood cancer occurs when abnormal blood cells in the blood-forming system multiply uncontrollably, crowding out the healthy cells.
Three most common types of blood cancer affecting the Indian population are:
- Lymphoma: A group of blood cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. The two main types are Hodgkin lymphoma (generally starts in the blood and bone marrow) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (generally starts in the lymph node and lymphatic tissue).
- Leukemia: A blood cancer that develops when normal blood cells change and grow uncontrollably.
- Multiple myeloma starts in the bone marrow, when plasma cells begin to grow uncontrollably.
Blood stem cell transplants in blood cancer treatment
Misconceptions and a lack of awareness about blood cancer are the biggest challenges observed today amongst the Indian population.
In the past, a blood cancer diagnosis was often regarded to be fatal. Today, a blood stem cell transplant can be a potentially life-saving treatment for blood cancer and other blood disorders. A blood stem cell transplant replaces a patient’s defective stem cells with healthy ones.
A blood stem cell transplant is typically a procedure that replaces unhealthy bone marrow cells with healthy ones. The body’s immune system has proteins known as Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA), to distinguish cells that belong to the body from those that do not. A stem cell transplant is likely to be successful only if the donor’s HLA type is a close match with that of the patient.
Sadly, many patients who could benefit from this lifesaving procedure do not get the treatment they so desperately need – because finding a donor with a similar tissue type is no easy task. Only about 30 percent of the patients can find a sibling match, and the remaining 70 percent depend on finding an unrelated matching donor, and there is a possibility of finding the perfect match from a donor of the same ethnicity. However, patients of Indian ethnicity have a hard time finding a matching donor due to the lack of potential donors in Indian registries.
How does a blood stem cell transplant work?
Any healthy Indian citizen between the age of 18-50 years can register as a potential blood stem cell donor with a stem cell registry such as the DKMS BMST Foundation India. Registration is a simple process, where all you need to do is to register through the online portal of a stem cell registry and you will receive a DIY home swab kit. Once you get the kit, you have to take a cheek-swab sample, fill a consent form and return it to the registry. A specialised laboratory will then analyse your HLA (tissue type) and your details will be available in the global search for blood stem cell donors. It may take weeks, months or years before you’re found to be a match for a patient in need to potentially give them a second chance at life.
If and when you’re found to be a match, you will be contacted by the registry. If you are medically cleared to donate and willing to proceed with the donation, you will be asked to donate blood stem cells via the peripheral blood stem cell collection process (PBSC). This process is similar to a blood platelet donation. The donated blood stem cells will be transported to and infused into the patient. These new blood stem cells will then begin to increase in numbers and produce red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets, resulting in the replacement of the patient’s diseased cells.
Today, more than 38 million potential unrelated donors are listed worldwide with stem cell donor centres and registries, of which only 0.04 percent are Indians. This situation can only be changed by recruiting many more potential stem cell donors from India.
The author is the CEO of the DKMS BMST Foundation in India.