Research

India’s first successful stem cell transplant using a sibling

Senthil Kumar and his family got a reason to smile, as their eight-year-old daughter Thamirabharuni got healed of Thalassemia, through cord blood stem cell transplantation. For six and a half years Thamirabharuni suffered from this fatal disease, going through painful blood transfusion and medication until stem cell transplantation using cord blood stem cells gave Thamirabharuni a new lease of life and a complete freedom from the pain of going through monthly blood transfusions.

Thalassemia is among the most common genetic diseases worldwide. Thalassemia is a blood disorder passed down through families (inherited) in which the body makes an abnormal form of hameoglobin, the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen. The disorder results in excessive destruction of red blood cells and causes severe anemia that can occur within months after birth. The diseased person has to undergo monthly blood transfusion. If left untreated, severe anemia can result in insufficient growth and development, as well as other common physical complications that can lead to a dramatically decreased life-expectancy.

A newborn sibling’s umbilical cord blood provides a better chance of HLA matching as there is a 25% chance for a perfect match, and 50% chance for a partial match. Also using a sibling’s cord blood for transplant lowers the chances of donor rejection, and is therefore considered as a preferred source for transplantation compared to using stem cells from a non-related source.

Dr. Revathy Raj who examined Thamirabharuni, had recommended her to start on iron reducing medication initially. She had asked Mr. Senthil Kumar and his wife to consider another pregnancy and go for umbilical cord blood stem cell banking. With a pre-natal test it was also confirmed that the foetus was not affected with Thalassemia.

‘I came to know about my daughter’s condition when she was one-and-half-year old. Being a carpenter by profession, bearing the medical expenses was really difficult for us. We approached various societies and LifeCell International for financial assistance. LifeCell helped us to preserve my son’s Pugazhendhi cord blood stem cells free of cost at their center in Chennai. Today, with the guidance of the doctors and with the aid of LifeCell International, Pugazhendhi has become a means for his sister’s survival from Thalassemia. I would like to thank my friends, doctors, well wishers, anonymous donors who helped and guided me at different stages,” says Mr. Senthil Kumar- Thamirabharuni’s father.

‘For a year, the extracted cord blood stem cells were preserved under specific conditions. HLA test was done which proved that the tissues of both the children matched and the treatment could proceed. The first step was to destroy all the existing bone marrow cells for which chemotherapy was used. Then the donor’s stem cells were injected in the patient body. The procedure requires no surgery,’ explains Dr Revathy Raj.

In March 2009, the stem cells transplantation was done by Dr. Revathy Raj at the Apollo Hospital and it helped Thamirabharuni get rid of Thalassemia. The stem cells that were transplanted came from her brother’s cord blood and his bone marrow as there was deficient amount of stem cells in Pugazhendhi cord blood. 

Mayur Abhaya, President and utive Director, LifeCell International says, ‘We at LifeCell would like to congratulate Mr. Senthil Kumar and his family on Thamirabharuni’s triumph over Thalassemia. This success I am sure will give new hope to thousands of families whose children are unfortunately the victim of this dreadful disease. It feels very fulfilling that LifeCell could make an impact in a child’s life

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