Jeevan Stem Cell Bank, a Chennai-based public cord blood bank aims at creating a medium to fight hematological illnesses through stem cell transplantation. But with limited awareness among public, the bank is working towards adding more units for more people to find suitable matches for stem cell transplantation.
Jeevan Stem Cell Bank, which was launched more than seven years ago, is the largest public cord blood bank in the SAARC region. The bank functions with the help of funding individuals, corporate bodies, Public trusts and the Tamil Nadu government.
Dr Saranya Narayan, Medical Director and Co-Founder of the bank, says, “In India, we have a huge disease burden and stem cells can be a solution, especially for thalassemia — at least 10,000 are born with the disorder every year in the country. Stem cells from cord blood can be used on anyone, depending on the compatibility.
Ethnicity has a huge role to play in determining compatibility.” This means an Indian has a greater likelihood of finding a match within an Indian inventory rather than a Caucasian one.
Started to meet the stem cell requirements of Indians, over the years the bank has collected more than 8,000 units of cord blood and stored close to 4,300 units free of cost. These can be accessed by the public for transplants that have a 60-80%success rate. The cord blood bank has a majority of the units coming from donors in the four Southern states, followed by Maharashtra and Gujarat. “We follow stringent acceptance and storage criteria before a sample is stored At least 50-60 per cent of the blood donated is rejected as they fail to meet these requirements.
As on December 31, 2015, there have been close to 505 requests for matches and 12 have found perfect matches (10/10), while 55 had found 9/10 matches. “While awareness has been increasing on public cord blood donation through word of mouth and through doctors, a lot more needs to be done to improve awareness amongst the general public,” says Dr Saranya, adding that the aim is to reach 30,000 units by the end of 2020.
“Anything beyond that increases the chances of finding a perfect match,” she says, adding that they have had two transplants so far. However, Dr Saranya points to another factor that makes transplant beyond reach for many. “The cost of transplant in most hospitals is anywhere between Rs10 lakh – Rs 24 lakh and that is a huge amount,” she says.
What is cord blood?
Cord blood is the remaining blood in the umbilical cord and placenta collected after the birth of a baby and after clamping of the cord. A rich source of hematopoietic stem cells (precursors to blood cells), they can be used to treat various types of leukemia (one of the most common types of cancer) and thalassemia (a genetic blood disorder).