Even with more than 24 million births a year1, finding a stem cell match in India, or in fact, anywhere in the world isn’t exactly an easy task. What further adds to this challenge is low Indian donor representation in the world wide cord blood registries, shortage of registered donors, and an extremely diverse population!2
Finding A Donor Stem Cell Match
Ideally, a sibling should be our best stem cell match, considering they share the same parents with us 3. However, there are many instances where they don’t! In such a scenario, the next best option is to search for an unrelated donor with a great similarity to our genetic makeup. But before we begin our search for ways to find a stem cell match, we should understand what stem cells are, and where exactly a donor comes into the picture? Read on to know more!
Stem Cell: The ‘Ultimate’ Building Block Of Life
The best way to define stem cells is to call them the raw material for our body! Unlike other cells, they are undifferentiated and do not have a specific structure or function. Instead, their pluripotent or multipotent nature allows them to develop into all other types - right from the nerve cells to the ones flowing in our blood. 4
Stem cells not only give rise to new cells but also replace old or damaged ones. Whether it's a crack in our bone or a tear into the tissue, our body has an army of stem cells tucked away at specific locations to replenish the damaged area with a brand new set of cells.5
But when stem cells stop or fail to perform their function, they need to be replaced with a new, healthier, and functional set of stem cells for an individual to survive.
An autologous stem cell transplant uses a patient's own stem cells. It involves isolating, freezing, and storing an individual’s stem cells and transferring them back into the body after they undergo chemotherapy or other appropriate treatment. 6
Whereas in the case of an allogeneic transplant, the patient receives stem cells from a donor. A potential stem cell match or donor can include parents, siblings, close relatives, or someone unrelated but genetically a good match.6
But in almost 90% of conditions, an allogeneic transplant is the preferred choice. It is so because, when it comes to certain medical conditions, all of the patient's stem cells will contain the same genetic defect they suffer from. This makes using their own stem cells a difficult choice. Even the American Society of Blood and Marrow transplant points to the probability of using one's own stem cells to be less than 0.04%. 7, 8
HLA Typing: The First Step To Finding A Stem Cell Match
The genetic compatibility between a donor and a patient is evaluated through HLA typing. Human Leukocyte Antigen, or HLA, is a protein lining the surface of cells that helps the immune system differentiate between self and foreign cells. Therefore, a stem cell match is decided based on the number of common HLA molecules shared by two people.9
As mentioned before, a family member, a close relative, or even an unrelated donor can be a potential stem cell match. However, a close HLA stem cell match has a high dependency on origin, ethnicity, or race.10 Plus, HLA mismatched stem cell donations can have severe immune rejections and fatal consequences. 11
That's where cord blood stem cell transplant steps in!
Finding A Stem Cell Match With Cord Blood Stem Cells!
Apart from bone marrow and peripheral blood, umbilical cord blood is another rich source of stem cells. This stem cell-rich cord blood can only be collected moments after the baby is born.
Cord blood transplants work the same way as bone marrow or peripheral blood transplants. However, they don't always need a perfect stem cell match for a successful result. Why is that so?
It is so because cord blood stem cells are not exposed to any pathogens or foreign substances during gestation, keeping them immunologically naive. 12 Therefore, for a transplant using cord blood stem cells, a 6/8 match will work well, unlike an adult bone marrow transplant that requires nothing less than a 9/10 or 10/10 match. This less restricted match criteria make cord blood stem cells more suitable for Hematopoietic stem cell transplants (HSCTs). 13
Take A Step Ahead With LifeCell's StemMatch
In India, thousands of people are diagnosed with life-threatening conditions, including blood disorders, blood cancers, and much more. And in most cases, a stem cell transplant is their only hope for survival. Unfortunately, 70% of such patients in India are unable to find a stem cell match. 14
With its advanced, proactive & exclusive services like StemMatch, LifeCell is on a mission to make a difference! LifeCell's StemMatch expedites the journey of its community banking members to discover an exact number of stem cell matches available in the LifeCell registry. This helps them take quick & actionable steps in testing times. With 60,000+ readily available qualified cord blood units and a >97% chance of finding an Indian-origin stem cell match, LifeCell community members can always be prepared for an uncertain future! Moreover, these cord blood units can be retrieved anytime at no additional cost for you, your baby, as well as your entire family.