Anand Mani, a pathology test vendor, wanted to gift his unborn child something special and his heart was set on saving the baby's stem cells for a disease free future. But the process was expensive. Mani's dream may not have come true but for a new EMI (equated monthly instalments) payment plan.
"I wanted to bank my child's stem cell. If I hadn't been able to do it for want of money I would have felt guilty lifelong," Anand, now the father of a girl child, told IANS.
AdvertisementStem cells are normally found in bone marrow and umbilical cords. They are the master cells responsible for producing all the mature cells in our blood and immune system. They form the white cells that fight infection, the red cells that carry oxygen, the platelets that promote clotting and the cells of our immune systems.
Stem cells can be used for the treatment of Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes, leukaemia and 74 other diseases, which destroy the body's healthy cells.
The cost of harvesting, processing and storing stem cells is about Rs. 35,000 ($850) but this is too expensive for the common man.
That is why stem cell bank Cryobank International is now offering a first payment option of Rs. 8,500 ($200) to store cord cells. The remainder is collected as EMIs of Rs. 3,000 ($75) and the EMI period can be stretched to 11 months or even 21 years.
Such schemes have made it possible for people from low-income groups like Mani to access the path-breaking technology.
Pathologist Chaitanya V. Nerikar, chief executive of Cryobank International, told IANS that stem cell therapy was fast becoming an option for the common man in India.
"And it will become cost-effective as more people go for umbilical cord cell banking," she said.
There are 150,000 blood cancer patients in India. "Complete change of blood has been the standard treatment worldwide for leukaemia but in India this is still not easily available because there is no national registry for matching blood," Nerikar said.
In the West, such registries are available online.
"A single Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing costs about Rs.10,000 and there are 20,000 HLA types, imagine the cost if an ordinary person has to search for a matching HLA type for leukaemia therapy.
"There are 70,000 new thalassaemia patients in India every year, all curable. Every district has a thalassaemia association but with no HLA registry it is always difficult to find a matching donor," Nerikar pointed out.
Cryobank has a bank in Gurgaon with a network of 200 thalassaemia patients and nearly 3,000 medical practitioners. The company is setting up cord blood banks in Chennai, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Hyderabad.
It is also setting up collection and counselling facilities in cities like Coimbatore, Erode, Madurai, Vellore and Pondicherry.
"We want to take cord cell therapy to the small towns of India," Nerikar said, adding that the EMI payment could make cord blood banking a nationwide practice.
Cryobank also provides a public banking facility, which means that parents can place the umbilical cord of a newborn for public use.
There are 2.5 million registered deliveries in India every year. "This means potentially, these many donors every year," Nerikar said.
Once the sample is HLA typed, it is in a registry. It can be accessed by anyone who needs the cord cell type and can revolutionise thalassaemia and leukaemia therapy.
Those families that cannot raise the money at the time of birth can bank the cord blood in the public domain and then arrange for it to be transferred for exclusive use.
Two private stem cell facilities are offered by the Chennai-based LifeCell India Ltd. and the Pune-based Reliance Life Sciences Pvt. Ltd., which has collaborated with the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, for research.
A great deal of stem cell research is under way in India.
The Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, is collaborating with the Deccan Medical College for liver stem cell research and with the L.V. Prasad Eye Institute for growing cornea cells.
The All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi is developing treatments using bone marrow cells for muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injury, cerebral dysplasia, heart tissue damage, diabetes and motor neuron disease.
The Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC), Pune, is setting up possibly the biggest stem cell research centre in Asia.
With stem cell therapy clearly emerging as the treatment for the future, banking cord blood is one of the cheapest and best healthcare options for Indians.