Health ministry evaluating stem cell donor registry

India may soon have an official database on stem cell donors and recipients, with the health ministry evaluating a proposal along with All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) to create a donor registry as part of the National Health Mission (NHM), The Times of India reported citing a senior official.

Under the proposal, all district hospitals would be enrolled in the first phase to seek stem cell details from across the country. Once a stem cell donor registry was in place, a willing donor could be contacted and one could coordinate easily, the official said, adding, this would also enhance access to safe blood.

Stem cells, found in bone marrow, could be likened to building blocks and are capable of growing into any normal cell of the body such as red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that fight infection, or platelets to stop bleeding.

In addition to the donor registry, the ministry was also looking at creating facilities for human leucocyte antigen (HLA) typing. HLA-typing, a process conducted for matching donors and recipients of stem cell is necessary to minimise stem cell transplant rejection according to experts.

The registry would be the first government registry in the country.

Stem cell therapy has been found to be effective in various blood disorders and in treatment of cancer and is widely used in bone marrow transplantation.

Meanwhile, in a related development, Indian-origin researchers have devised a reliable way to grow tumour cells taken from patients in the lab, The Times of India reported in a separate report.

The new technique developed by University of Michigan researchers is more than three times as effective than current methods.

According to the researchers, it was a major step forward in the study of circulating tumour cells, shed from tumours and which circulate through the blood in cancer patients.

The cells are believed to cause metastasis, or the spread of cancer through the body which causes nearly 90 per cent of cancer-related deaths.

The cells which also hold valuable genetic information could be useful in making informed treatment decisions and even devising tailor-made therapies for individual patients.

And the fact that the cells circulate in the blood, allows them to be drawn easily rather than through invasive tissue biopsy. Progress, however, has been rather slow, due largely to their rare presence in early-stage cancer patients.

The new capture and culture method marks and advance in the technique as it makes available a reliable way to get usable numbers of circulating tumour cells from even early-stage patients.