India lags behind in stem cell donors: Expert

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New Delhi: India is far, far behind in its requirement of stem cell donors to treat life-threatening diseases like cancer, with only 500 transplants taking place annually compared to a requirement of 50,000, an international conference was told on Saturday

Leading experts from the US, Germany and India met here for the International Bone marrow Transplant Summit to talk about the latest advances in stem-cell treatment of diseases.

What became clear during the deliberations of the summit, organised by an NGO Bharat Stem Cell, was lack of awareness about the importance of donating stem cells.

One of India's leading oncologists, Dr Vinod Raina told the conference that the country needed donors for some 50,000 stem cell transplants a year but currently only 500 transplants can be undertaken.

Dr Raina, Director of Medical Oncology and Hematology at Fortis Memorial Research Institute, pointed out that the US had a registry of 22 million donors in a population of 317 million, but in India the figure was a poor 40,000 donors in a population of 1.2 billion.

The experts also underlined the need to launch a major awareness drive to educate people about importance of donating stem cells to treat cancer patients with conditions such as leukaemia and lymphoma.

"We have to improve awareness for creating a donor registry. The government as well as private sector will have to come forward to create awareness on donating stem cells," said Raina.

Dr Mammen Chandy, director at Tata Medical Centre, Kolkata, said thousands of patients die every year in India as there were not enough donors for stem cell and bone marrow.

"India as compared to most of the Western countries is lagging far behind in creation of a stem cell donor registry. We will have to go a long way in developing registries in our country," he said.

Seeking policy initiatives by the government, Chandy said the cost of stem cell transplantation was around Rs 25-30 lakh in India as in most cases stem cells are brought from countries like the US and Germany.

"Currently stem cell transplantation is very costly. It is not affordable for most of the patients. There must be some policy initiatives to bring down the cost," he said.

Chandy said there was a need to establish a corpus fund by the government to set up a registry for stem cell donors on the lines of Western countries.

Chief of Hemato-oncology and transplantation department in Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre Dr Dinesh Bhurani said people in India are sceptical about donating stem cells as they think it will have an adverse impact on their health.

"It is just like blood donation. Clearing misconceptions of people will lead to an increase in the registry list," he said.


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