Blood cancer and other blood disorders such as Thalassemia and Aplastic Anemia are on the rise in India primarily affecting the younger population and children.
Most often a blood stem cell transplant from a matching donor remains the only chance of survival for a blood cancer patient. A donor is found when the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) tissue type of the donor and the patient match. However, only about 30% of the patients in need of a stem cell transplant as lifesaving treatment can find a sibling match. The rest 70% depend on finding a matching unrelated donor.
“Misinformation and lack of awareness about blood cancer and its types are the biggest challenges observed today amongst the Indian population. What most people are unaware of is that blood cancer can be treated, and a patient can get a second chance at life via a stem cell transplant, which is often the best treatment option. Finding a matching blood stem cell donor is one in a million chance. Only 0.04% of the Indian population is registered as potential blood stem cell donors which is very less when compared to other countries. Due to which it is extremely difficult for Indian patients to find a matching unrelated donor. This situation can only be changed by registering many more potential blood stem cell donors from India,” says Patrick Paul, CEO, DKMS- BMST Foundation India.
India is one of the youngest nations in the world and the youth form a significant part of society. In increasing numbers, these days, youngsters are seen supporting many social causes. One such cause is coming forward to register as potential blood stem cell donors and in turn help blood cancer patients. Recently, youngsters like Prapul and Premkumar from India have taken a step ahead and donated their blood stem cells. Prapul, a 20-year-old student from Bengaluru registered with DKMS-BMST as a potential blood stem cell in 2019 and donated his blood stem cells in May 2021 and gave a second chance at life to a blood cancer patient.
Prapul was just 18 when he registered with DKMS-BMST and describing his experience he says, “I was motivated since beginning and got full support from my mother in taking this important step. In just 1.5 year of registering I got the call that I was found to be a perfect match for a blood cancer patient in need of a blood stem cell donor. Knowing there was someone who urgently needed my blood stem cells made it highly convincing for me to tolerate just a needle prick pain.”
Similarly, Premkumar, 26-year-old computer applications professional from Chennai registered this year in January and became a match for a patient in just six months and donated his blood stem cells through Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation process, which is similar to blood platelet donation.
Once the blood stem cells are collected from a donor, they are infused into the patient through a transplant process which then moves through the bloodstream and settles in the bone marrow. These new blood stem cells begin to increase in numbers resulting in the replacement of the patient’s diseased cells and that’s how a blood cancer patient gets a second chance at life.
With the rise in blood cancer cases in India, there is a constant need to educate people on the concept of blood stem cell donation. Most often treating doctors find it difficult to get a matching blood stem cell donor for the patient who needs a transplant because not many people register themselves as a potential donor. Anyone between the age of 18 and 50 and in general good health can take the first step to register as a blood stem cell donor by ordering a home swab kit at www.dkms-bmst.org/register.