Research centre to explore cheaper option to bone marrow transplant

M. Dinesh Varma

It wants to make available Autologous Immune Enhancement Therapy around Rs. 1 lakh

The first round of clinical applications for this therapy to be launched in a couple of months The centre will be looking at exploiting umbilical cord blood in this regard

CHENNAI: Nichi-in Centre for Regenerative Medicine (NCRM), the Chennai-based joint venture with Japan, is launching a cell therapeutics project to provide a cheaper alternative to bone marrow transplants for patients with leukaemia.

Of the developments in stem cell research across the globe, what has specifically interested the NCRM is the technique of Autologous Immune Enhancement Therapy (AIET), which involves the use of recharged lymphocytes to eliminate cancer cells.

In the AIET, the peripheral blood mononuclear cells are drawn during the remission phase following a chemotherapy session. The lymphocytes are expanded in the laboratory (a 25-35 fold increase) and re-infused into the patient.

"The first round of clinical applications in this form of therapy is expected to be launched in Chennai in a couple of months," said Samuel J. K. Abraham, NCRM Director.

NCRM is aiming to make available the therapy in the range of Rs. one lakh, which is around one-tenth of the cost of a conventional bone marrow transplant.

NCRM will also be looking at exploiting umbilical cord blood, which is a rich source of

hemopoietic stem cells (multiply into blood cells). While this cord blood is a composite source of blood-forming cells, the prospects of a perfect HLA cross-match remain in low probability. Under current international guidelines, at least four of the six HLAs have to match for launching clinical applications, though some studies have added dissenting notes to this practice after registering rejection.

The NCRM has been choosing research and applications that are in line with its stated objectives of eliminating teratogenicity (where harvested cells differentiate in an uncontrollable manner into other unwanted cells), the use of animal protein and ensuring a reasonably good life span for implanted cells.

Initially, NCRM will network with hameto-oncologists to select patient-subjects and with cancer institutions at a later stage.

It is also proposed to store a portion of the expanded umbilical cord blood in a stem cell bank facility for future use in case a patient relapses.

"The establishment of a public cord blood banking network could complement the new initiatives in therapy," said director Dr. Abraham.

It is also planning discussions with cancer relief organisations to float a self-sustaining Foundation that would take care of the treatment costs of patients from low-income groups.

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