Most of the time parents are faced with myriad decisions for their newborns. One of them is whether to preserve their baby's umbilical cord stem cells. It's a decision most parents-to-be consider, weighing the cost against the potential future benefits which might help treat certain genetic diseases and cancers that your child may get.
The first successful umbilical cord blood stem cell transplant was done 28 years ago in France, and over the last 20 years more than 40,000 patients worldwide have had umbilical cord blood transplants. In India, there is increasing awareness about cases that are successfully treated with stem cells and this has led to umbilical cord banking to be a propagated as opposed to being discarded as medical waste.
Families wanting to improve their access to stem cells resort to preserving their baby's umbilical cord blood stem cells at private stem cell banks, even though it provides only a 25 per cent chance of being a match for the siblings. Every year, approximately 100,000 units are preserved in such private banks.
Due to lack of financial support for public banking only approximately 5,000 cord blood units are available in public banks (<1 per cent of the global inventory for 20 per cent of the world's population) which provides a very minimal chance of obtaining a suitable match.
Every year nearly 25,000 patients in India are unable to find a matching stem cell during times of need due to the low Indian inventory. Patients struggle to find a matching cord blood unit after trying their luck with other sources of blood cells like bone marrow and peripheral blood. These efforts have their own shortcomings such as the delay in sourcing the listed donor and the donor refusing to donate during need or because the listed donor has contracted an infection.
So how do we solve the current issue of finding matching stem cell units? Today what we need is an organised umbilical cord blood banking system in the country which could treat patients in need and be used for further medical research.
With the need for unrelated umbilical cord blood stem cells and the current day challenges in the Public cord blood banks, there is a huge need for a common pool of stem cell banks. This module would offer the entire family the access to their baby's stem cells and also the common pool of stem cells from other members who can act as donors too.
It would be easy for a country like India to make a large inventory umbilical cord banking covering even rare ethnic groups due to the high birth rate amidst the Indian populace.
Seventy per cent of the patients of Indian origin who don't find a matching bone marrow donor would benefit immensely through the sharing model. Through community banking of cord blood units, India has the potential to become the largest inventory of stem cells globally, increasing the scope of potentially lifesaving stem cell transplants for babies, their families, their communities and others of Indian origin worldwide.
With increasing trend of parents preserving their baby's stem cells, community stem cell banking would help increase the inventory by more than 50,000 every year. By this, there is a >90 per cent chance for patients in India to find a match if the inventory exceeds 250,000 units.
In the recent past, to extend the treatment for fatal blood-related conditions to the tribals suffering with Sickle Cell Anaemia, the government has also passed a bill in parliament on the necessity of large inventory of unrelated stem cell banks.
(Mayur Abhaya Srisrimal is Chief Executive Officer & Managing Director, LifeCell. The views expressed are personal. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)