A 10-year-old boy has been infused with stem cells harvested from the bone marrow of his brother to treat him for thalassaemia – a disorder caused by destruction of red blood cells. Called allogeneic transplantation of stem cells, this was done at Kovai Medical Center and Hospital.

D. Dhanush may not have to undergo expensive and excruciating blood transfusion anymore if his body accepts the donor cells. But his condition will have to be evaluated very minutely for the next two years to confirm that the cells donated by his brother have been received well and adapted him.

Presenting the boy before media persons, Clinical Haematologist and Head of the Bone Marrow Transplant Unit T. Rajasekar explained that transplantation was of two types – autologous and allogeneic.

The autologous procedure involves harvesting of stem cells from the patients themselves (those suffering from thalassaemia or leukaemia). The extracted cells are frozen and stored for high dose treatment.

After being treated, these are infused into the patient through a vein. This procedure was done for one person suffering from myeloma (cancer of plasma cells or white blood cells that produce anti-bodies that help fight infections/diseases) and another with a relapsed lymphoma (cancer of the lymphocytes –cells that are part of immune system).

Under the allogeneic procedure, matching stem cells from a donor are used. Mostly, these cells are from siblings or a close relative as they need to pass the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) matching test. HLA matching is required, or the cells will be rejected by the recipient. Ideally, it is sibling whose cells will match because he or she will have the HLA from both parents. It is the combination of HLAs from both parents that are found in the children.

The cells can be harvested from the marrow or from the blood. In the case presented on Tuesday, Dr. Rajasekar said the cells were brought out of the bone marrow in Dhanush’s brother and into his blood, from where these were harvested.

Chairman of the hospital Nalla G. Palaniswami said the tough procedure was performed by the new Comprehensive Cancer Centre, which was gradually bringing in specialists of all sub-specialities of cancer care. “Only then can this be called a comprehensive centre,” he said.

The hospital would form a KMCH Foundation, which would use funds from donors to treat poor children suffering from cancer and some other disorders that required expensive treatment.

The stem cell transplantation that Dhanush, the son of a police head constable, underwent cost Rs.12 lakh. Of this, Rs.9 lakh was provided by a donor, Dr. Palaniswami said. Dean of the hospital V. Kumaran and Head of Department of Interventional Radiology Mathew Cherian spoke on how the cancer centre was established and how developments were being made.

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