Little sister saves brother in unique stem cell operation

In a unique procedure involving stem cell therapy, a Kolkata cancer research institute claims to have cured a five-year-old boy of thalassemia, an inherited disease which affects the body's red blood corpuscles and leads to anaemia as a first symptom.

Doctors at the Netaji Subhas Cancer Research Institute said on Friday they had carried out the country's first successful mixed stem cell transplant on Moinam Pal, suffering from HbE-beta thalassemia. A mixture of cord blood and bone marrow cells collected from the boy's younger sister was transplanted into his body, the doctors said.

The feat was all the more significant because the transplant was successful even though the blood groups of the siblings were dissimilar, according to the institute and its partner in the therapy, stem-cell bank CordLife.

In 2006, Moinam Pal was barely seven months old when his parents noticed him growing paler by the day and took him to a paediatrician, who diagnosed him with thalassemia.

''We were told that it is an inherited blood disorder that results in excessive destruction of red blood cells and causes anaemia. While Moinam had to undergo regular blood transfusions and medication to keep his red blood cell count at a normal level, our frantic search for an institute that could perform stem-cell transplantation took us to NSCB Cancer Research Institute,'' Moinam's father Ashim Kumar Pal said at a press conference.

Director of the institute Dr Ashis Mukherjee advised the couple to try for a second baby, whose cord blood cells could be collected and transplanted to Moinam's body in order to give him a fresh lease of life.