Genetics project launched to cut infant deaths

October 12, 2010


A three-year genetics project has been launched in Birmingham to help tackle the city’s high infant mortality rate by raising awareness of inherited genetic disorders. The project has three strands: educational, clinical and primary care.

The primary care strand of the project, which was launched this week, aims to raise the profile of inherited genetic disorders through the public’s engagement with GPs. Three GP practices in the Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust are offering a screening programme for inherited blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia and thalassemia. They are raising awareness of other genetic disorders and are identifying families appropriate for specialist referral. The clinical strand of the project includes developing 30 new molecular tests for genetic diseases over the next three years. ‘We wanted to launch in primary care to raise the profile of this area among GPs and Primary Care’, said project manager Yasar Eltaf, from the Birmingham Women’s hospital.

The project’s focus is on genetic risk generally, but first-cousin marriage is a risk factor for inherited genetic disorders. Birmingham’s infant death rates were linked to first-cousin marriage by a Channel 4 Dispatches programme aired in August this year. A community educator from the Enhanced Genetic Services Project, Zahira Maqsood, emphasised: ‘This project is not about chastising families and community groups for their marriage and cultural choices. It is about enabling people to be aware of potential health risks and choices available to them’.

Infant death rates in Birmingham are 8.2 per 1000 population, almost double the national average of 4.8 per 1000 population. About 139 infants die each year in the city.


In A First, Narayana Hrudayalaya Initiates Combined Cord Blood Repository

August 27, 2010

Courtesy: timesofindia

Parents can now donate their newborn’s cord blood for use by any patient or store it for their own use. For the first time, Narayana Hrudayalaya has initiated the combined cord blood repository with both public and private banking facilities.

Cord blood stem cells from a child are used to treat diseases like thalaseemia, a condition where the body has fewer healthy red blood cells and less haemoglobin than normal and Faconi, an inherited anaemia that leads to bone marrow failure. These cells could be used to cure these diseases in siblings and even in parents provided the Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) type matches.

If they need to bank a child’s cord blood, a decision needs to be taken about 2-3 months before the expected date of delivery. This helps to collect the cord blood and tissue immediately after delivery. The entire collection process has to be completed within 5 minutes of delivery of the child. The process is simple and can be done by any qualified obstetrician or a trained nurse and does not affect the health of either the newborn child or the mother. Otherwise, it’s difficult to collect and store the cells.

Dr Prem Anand Nagaraja, director, Narayana Hrudayalaya Tissue Bank and Stem Cell Research Centre, Bangalore, said: “Cord blood is obtained from the wasted placenta and umbilical cord at the time of childbirth. After the child is born and the cord is divided, residual blood in the placental circulation is collected using sterile procedures. The remaining umbilical cord is delivered and discarded. Stem cells extracted from this cord blood as well as cord tissue can be preserved for a long time in liquid nitrogen and used to treat many diseases and cure patients.”

Wide application

Four-year-old Mayur is suffering from Fanconi’s anaemia. Since he is the only child and bone marrow from his parents doesn’t match his HLA, he has no option but to go on regular blood transfusions to keep up his platelet count.

His mother Prathibha is now eight months pregnant and antenatal tests show that the foetus is free of the dreaded diseases. Newer indications for stem cell therapy are disease conditions like breast cancer, renal cell cancer, heart disease, spinal injury, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Research and clinical trials worldwide prove the success of cord blood stem cells in over 75 such disease conditions.

Dr Sharat Damodar, consultant haematologist, Narayana Hrudayalaya, said: “All these true stories speak volumes about the therapeutic potential of bone-marrow derived stem cells from a matched donor. In the absence of such a donor, cord blood derived stem cells can help cure dreaded hematological diseases like Thalassemia major, Aplastic anemia, Fanconi’s anaemia and over 14 such other conditions.”

UAE Genetic Diseases Association carries on initiative for UAE free from thalassemia by 2012

July 30, 2010


UAE Genetic Diseases Association (UAEGDA), the sole non-profit genetic organization in the UAE, recently announced that they are on track to achieve their “UAE Free from Thalassemia 2012” initiative, saying that the target looks quite achievable to eliminate births of children born with the genetic blood disease within the next two years.

Offering free and confidential testing and in association with National Bonds Corporation PJSC, the organisation held a blood screening drive earlier this week for its employees to screen them for the most commonly inherited blood genetic disorders—including as Beta Thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, G6PD deficiency and Diabetes Mellitus—in support of UAEGDA’s national health campaign.

Regularly organized screening drives help to increase an individual’s awareness on the health risks posed by genetic blood disorders, which can be passed from one generation to the other. The process begins by registering online at the UAEGDA website. Bar-coded labels are then printed and placed on the individuals testing tubes after which the sample of blood is processed in the UAEGDA laboratory. The results are then sent directly to the individual’s email with all the details being handled solely between the client and the organization.

Dr. Maryam Matar, Founder & Chairman of UAEGDA, says that genetic blood diseases like thalassemia are highly prevalent in the UAE but can be addressed with a simple and inexpensive blood test as a primary solution in helping to reduce the presence of hereditary diseases in the country.

“We are confident that with the rapid increase in the activities of our organization and with all the awareness events organized by UAEGDA across the country, we can make the UAE free of thalassemia by 2012,” adds Dr. Matar.

As one of UAEGDA’s leading partners, National Bonds Corporation PJSC takes responsibility towards its employees seriously and is working in association with UAEGDA to support the government’s campaign to eradicate thalassemia in the country by 2012.

“We are committed to stepping up the fight against thalassemia and working towards the health of the nation, both in terms of physical and financial wellbeing,” comments Mr. Mohammed Qasim Al Ali, CEO of National Bonds Corporation PJSC.

“By offering our employees UAEGDA’s free and confidential voluntary tests, we can ensure their own wellbeing as well as that of future generations.”

The UAE Genetic Diseases Association has been able to considerably reduce the impact of common genetic disorders prevalent in the country through its community outreach programs, health education, counseling and free screening tests. They also have a free genetic clinic equipped with a state-of-the-art screening facility supervised by internationally renowned experts.

All you want to know about stem cell banking

May 15, 2010

Courtesy by:
Among the many decisions would-be-parents have to take, whether or not they should preserve their child’s cord blood cells is one such major decision they have to take. Here is some info which will let you decide whether this breakthrough in regenerative medicine works for you.

What is stem cell therapy?
Stem cells are nothing but master cells that regenerate and turn into cells that form tissues, organs and systems. These cells are undifferentiated or blank cells that do not have a specific function. Each stem cell has the potential to become another cell with a more specialised function. Also serving as a kind of repair system for the body, stem cells can divide repeatedly and then differentiate and replenish cells damaged by the various life-threatening diseases.

How effective is it?
The cord blood stem cells can be used to cure about 70 odd illnesses. Banking stem cells present in your child’s umbilical cord is particularly beneficial to treat blood-related genetic diseases. Now the benefits of this therapy are being assessed on lifestyle disorders like arthritis, heart ailments and diabetes. In fact, banking cord blood cells can also help treat siblings and other family members provided they are compatible with the individual seeking treatment.

Sagar Gopal, a resident of Chembur opted for cord stem cell banking for his little one on February 7 this year. “I heard about cord stem cell banking from a friend of mine. After doing the necessary research I realised that cord stem cell banking will be beneficial because a lot of research is on its uses. I think by taking this small step I have secured my child’s life against several life threatening diseases,” says Gopal.

Stem cells can be derived from various sources such as the bone marrow, embryos obtained by in vitro fertilization, amniotic fluid, umbilical cord blood and menstrual blood.

Bone Marrow – The bone marrow is an extremely rich and the earliest known source of somatic stem cells. Drawn from the spongy tissue found in the centre of bones, the main function of these stem cells is to make blood cells that circulate in our bodies and fight infection.

Umbilical Cord – The other rich source of stem cells is the blood left over in the umbilical cord and placenta of a newborn child. Till recently, this blood was often discarded as medical waste. However, now that umbilical cord blood is known to be a rich source of stem cells, more people are choosing to bank these cells for its potential future use.

Menstrual blood – Menstrual blood too is a rich source of stem blood cells. The advantage of this is that tissue collection can be done easily at home with the help of a menstrual cup. Also the person does not need anaesthesia and the process involved is inexpensive too. However, there is a risk of contamination so the collected sample has to be sterilised within 48 hours and stored at a temperature of -200 degrees.

Advantages of deriving stem cells from umbilical cord as compared to other sources
Removing stem cells from the umbilical cord is simpler. Usually the umbilical cord that connects the foetus with the mother is cut at the time of delivery and discarded. However, in this technique, the blood remaining in the umbilical cord that is full of stem cells is separated and stored in stem cell banks. These stem cells are similar to those found in the bone marrow and have already been used to treat leukaemia (blood cancer).

Mayur Abhaya, executive director of Life Cell, a stem cell bank in India, states, “The advantage of banking stem cells through the umbilical cord is that cord blood’s chances of matching are 20 times higher. Using cord blood cells mean that it has a lower rejection rate by the body.”

How is it stored?
As of now there are three private stem cell banks in India. These include the one run by Reliance in Mumbai, CryoCell stem bank run in New Delhi and Life Cell run in collaboration with Cryo-Cell International, USA in Chennai.

You can now preserve your newborn’s cord blood at any bank for a payment of Rs70,000 for 20 years.

However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend private cord blood storage unless a family member has a medical condition that might be helped by stem cell transplant. The conditions include leukaemia, lymphoma, neuroblastoma, sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia. Instead, AAP urges parents to donate the cord blood cells to a bank for general use by public.

Across the world, stem cell transplants have been used since the 1960s to treat a variety of diseases such as: Acute Leukaemia, Histiocytic Disorders, Inherited Immune System Disorders, Combined Immunodeficiency Inherited Metabolic Disorders, Inherited Platelet Abnormalities, Refractory Anaemia (RA), Plasma Cell Disorders, Research on for Alzheimer’s Disease, Cardiac Disease, Diabetes, Multiple Sclerosis, Muscular Dystrophy, Parkinson’s Disease, Spinal Cord, Stroke

Innovative drug design wins medical research prize

May 15, 2010

Courtesy by:

The development of a new way to treat iron overload disease has won the 2010 Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund Prize for Medical Research.

Dr Rachel Codd from the Discipline of Pharmacology won the Prize for her discovery of an award-winning compound that has the potential to significantly improve the treatment of the disease.

Inheritable blood disorders arising from single-gene defects are among the most common diseases in the world, with around seven per cent of the population estimated to be carriers. Each year, 300,000 to 500,000 babies are born with severe blood disorders, including sickle-cell anaemia and the thalassemias.

To prevent life-threatening anaemia, patients with beta-thalassemia undergo blood transfusions every two to four weeks. Regular blood transfusions cause an excess of iron to accumulate in the body resulting in iron overload disease. Since humans do not have an active iron excreting mechanism, patients must undergo additional treatment to remove the iron (chelation therapy).

The current treatment for iron overload disease is effective only when administered by intravenous infusion. To improve the quality of life of thalassemia patients, there is a need to develop iron chelation agents that are orally active.

Dr Codd has shown that simple modifications to the currently available iron chelation therapy have the potential to improve treatment options for thalassemia, including oral delivery. In addition, the compounds may have application in neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, in which irregular iron levels have been implicated as contributing factors.

Dr Codd’s group at the University uses a chemical biology approach to find platforms for drug design and drug discovery. This approach has also led to innovations in the design of compounds as potential anti-cancer agents and antibiotics.

Professor Jonathan Stone, Managing Trustee of the Sir Zelman Cowen Universities Fund congratulated Dr Codd on winning the award.

“In awarding the Prize to Dr Codd, the Prize Committee noted the novelty of the compounds, their clinical applicability to a range of difficult-to-treat diseases, and the strong momentum of Dr Codd’s work,” he said.

The Prize, an award of $10,000 and a medal crafted by renowned Melbourne sculptor, Michael Meszaros, will be awarded to Dr Codd at a function to be held later in the year.

Virgin Health Bank signed an agreement with Al Ahli Hospital

February 21, 2010

Courtesy by:

Al-Ahli Hospital and Virgin Health Bank QSTP have signed an agreement creating a partnership that will assist in the development of cord blood stem cell banking in Qatar. Their collaboration will give guests of the hospital the opportunity to store the umbilical cord blood stem cells of their newborn babies.

The programme that has been developed ensures that guests who are going to have their babies at Al-Ahli Hospital are informed about cord blood banking and can benefit from VHB QSTP’s services through their maternity care. This partnership was announced in a press conference hosted by representatives from both Al-Ahli Hospital and VHB QSTP.

VHB QSTP was established to help realise the benefits of stem cell therapies for the people of Qatar and the wider Gulf region and they began offering their cord blood banking services to Qatar’s families in late 2009.

They have already completed a week long training programme for the obstetrics and midwifery teams at Al-Ahli in support of this initiative.

Mr. Abdulwahed Al-Mawlawi, the Managing Director and CEO of Medicare Group and Al-Ahli Hospital said “Al-Ahli Hospital has undertaken this partnership to assist in its development in Qatar by making it available to our honourable Guests. Teams from Al-Ahli and Virgin Health Bank have worked closely together for a number of months to assure that this service is delivered in a proficient manner.”

Dr. Rajan Jethwa, the CEO of VHB QSTP said, “Virgin Health Bank’s new partnership with Al-Ahli Hospital is a significant and exciting development for cord blood banking in Qatar and the Gulf region. Together we’ll educate families about this area of medicine and provide a high quality ethical service.”

Al-Ahli Hospital’s maternity unit is the largest among the private healthcare providers in Qatar. Having been in operation for over than three years, their maternal morbidity and mortality rates are much lower than the internationally-accepted figures. Their western-qualified and highly experienced team of consultants and specialists led by Clinical Director, Dr. Zeenat Rizvi, perform an average of six deliveries per day.

Dr. Rizvi said, “Cord blood stem cell banking provides families with the opportunity to store the stem cells of their newborn babies. These cells may be used to treat the child, or provided there is a tissue match, another member of their family.”

“Developments in this area of medicine are progressing rapidly; today cord blood stem cells are used to treat blood cancers including leukaemia’s and blood disorders such as thalassemia and sickle cell anaemia. In the future they are expected to become the basis for advances in the field of regenerative medicine. Through this partnership, we can provide our guests with ethically-compliant cord blood banking and this falls in line with our objective of providing leading edge obstetric care.”

Stem cells are obtained from cord blood collected just after a baby is born and the umbilical cord has been clamped and cut. It is a straightforward and safe procedure that has no impact on the mother or her newly born child. After collection, the cord blood is transferred to Virgin Health Bank’s Human Tissue Authority licensed processing centre in the UK, where it undergoes tests to determine its viability and the number of cells are counted before it is cryogenically preserved at -190C.

Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, the eminent Islamic scholar, has approved of the cord blood banking process and has declared that it conforms to Shari’a law. Dr Al-Qaradawi is Chairman of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, a member of the Islamic Fiqh Council and the senior Islamic Jurist.

In 2009 Qatar Foundation and VHB QSTP signed a partnership that has seen VHB QSTP relocate its international headquarters to QSTP where it’s building an advanced processing and cryogenic storage facility that will be operational before the end of 2010.

The new cord blood banking service has commenced at Al-Ahli Hospital and guests are now able to get more information about it by contacting its Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department. The service costs families a one off payment of QR 12,950, paid to Virgin Health Bank, which includes the collection kit, the processing of the cord blood, all the necessary tests and 20 years of storage.

B+ve to A+ve, he beats thalassemia

November 22, 2009

Courtesy by: timesofindia

AHMEDABAD: Exactly 49 days ago, Harshil Nanda was a severely ill thalassemic patient with B positive blood group. Today, he is a healthy infant with A positive blood group and a confirmed evidence of how stem cell transplant can cure thalassemia.

The change in his blood group is in fact proof that Harshil’s procedure, the country’s second stem cell transplant from umbilical cord blood of a stranger child received from a private bank, has worked.

Harshil’s rapid recovery has cheered stem cell transplant surgeons at Gujarat Cancer Research Institute (GCRI) where the first such transplant was performed nearly a year ago.

“This means that unrelated umbilical stem cell transplant can be termed as an established treatment. As they say, first success could be luck but second is science,” said director of bone marrow transplant department at GCRI Dr Sandip A Shah. The transplant was assisted by Dr Kinnari Patel and Dr Kamlesh Shah.

The first success story was of Rishi, a thalassemic major child from Kutch, who was cured by umbilical cord stem cells transplanted from an unrelated donor as he did not have siblings. Harshil is also the only child of his parents.

“While it took three months in Rishi for the donor blood cells to completely take over and change his blood group, Harshil has recovered within two months,” said Dr Shah.

For children without siblings and suffering from thalassemia, aplastic anaemia and similar blood problems, this is good news. The success rate of such transplants is 70 per cent.

Doctors are now poised to perform a third unrelated umbilical cord stem cell transplant. “The third patient is a girl called Zeel, who has got Rs 10 lakh as donation from Bollywood star Ajay Devgan to perform the transplant,” said Dr Shah.

City hospital starts OPD for blood-related diseases

November 12, 2009

Courtesy by: timesofindia

AHMEDABAD: Sterling Hospital on Wednesday launched a dedicated OPD for bone marrow transplantation and diseases of blood to coincide with the completion of 10 hematopoietic stem cell transplantations (HSCT).

“HSCT is used to treat many conditions. Some of the common acquired conditions are leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, aplastic anaemia and thalassemia major,” head of bone marrow transplant department at the hospital, Dr Uday Deotare, said.

“A transplant offers a chance for cure or long-term remission if the inherent complications of graft versus host disease, immuno-suppressive treatments and the spectrum of opportunistic infections can be survived,” Dr Urmish Chudgar said.

Orissa needs more super-specialists

September 8, 2009

Courtesy by:

CUTTACK: Orissa is faced with an acute shortage of doctors specialising in haematology despite the fact that it has one of the major centres for treatment of blood-related ailments in the entire Eastern region.

Though the burden of blood diseases ranging from anaemia, genetic haemoglobin diseases like sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia along with haemophillia, platelet disorders, bleeding and blood vessel disorders and various types of blood cancer are on a steep rise, there are only around five doctors at the sole haematology unit in SCB Medical College and Hospital here to deal with the load.

The dearth of qualified doctors in the super-speciality has been attributed to non-existence of higher study in the discipline in the State.

And this has prompted the Indian Society of Haematology and Transfusion Medicine (ISHTM) to seek opening of a DM course in Haematology in the State. “The course will churn out specialised doctors to operate not only in the domestic sector but also across medical centres in the country,” Head of Clinical Haematology of SCBMCH Dr RK Jena said.

The ISHTM, Orissa unit, which held its fourth annual conference here today has also called for establishment of bone-marrow transmission facilities in the hospital. With advances in diagnosis and treatement methods, blood diseases are now diagnosed with great accuracy. Bone marrow transplantation has made cure possible in over 80 per cent acute lymphoblastic leukemia (a blood cancer type among children).

It has utility in other major blood- related diseases. “For this procedure, patients have to travel outside the State and incur heavy expenses on travelling and accommodation besides treatment,” organising secretary of the conference Jena said.

The hematologists have also sought provision of advanced diagnostic facilities like PCR laboratory and immuno- histochemistry facility to upgrade the disease management and treatment infrastructure in the State. Besides, the drugs for blood cancers and thalassemia patients should be exempted from taxes. Many states have waived tax on such drugs and Orissa should implement the same for the benefit of patients.

The ISHTM conference was attended by Prof Eva Kimby of Sweden, senior professors from the country and State, oncologists, general physicians and research personnel.

Cord blood bank to be set up in Ahmedabad

August 17, 2009

Courtesy by:

A new collaboration between StemCyte Inc. of the US and Apollo Hospital Enterprises Ltd. now promises to bring about a revolution in the treatment about 70 diseases by introducing the ‘plasma depletion’ technology in India.

A Memorandum of Understanding between the two companies was signed at the Vibrant Gujarat Summit and the collaboration has resulted into StemCyte India Therapeutics Pvt. Ltd. This cord blood bank will be located in Ahmedabad and will have the patented technique of processing and storage of StemCyte Inc., announced the officials of the StemCyte on Thursday.

The technology of collecting high volume of stem cells called ‘plasma depletion’ which helps in successful therapeutic applications of umbilical cord stem cells can be used in the treatment of 70 different diseases like leukaemia, lymphoma, myeloma, thalassemia, sickle cell anaemia, fanconi anaemia and auto immune deficiency diseases. These diseases have been successfully treated with umbilical cord stem cells. The umbilical cord blood stem cells are fast emerging as a prime source of stem cells in the field of regenerative medicine, repair of injured tissues, nerves and organs.

According to Tushar Dalal, president of StemCyte India, the company plans to build 20,000 diverse units to help treat critically ill patients in India and abroad. He said, “Strategically situated in Gujarat, which has the highest frequency of Thalassemia patients, StemCyte India will spread the ray of hope among patients of this life threatening disease.”

While StemCyte has earlier signed two research and licensing agreements for human umbilical cord blood stem cell treatment of spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, and other problems of the central nervous system, these research programs will be conducted in India by Apollo Hospitals and Cadila Pharmaceuticals here as well.

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