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Blood cancer and other blood disorders like thalassemia and aplastic anaemia are life threatening unless matching potential blood stem cell donors decide to donate their blood stem blood cells to save lives.

In India, there are almost a lakh new cases of blood disorders every year that are contributing to the disease-burden consistently. Every five minutes someone is being diagnosed with blood cancer and other blood disorders like thalassemia or aplastic anaemia. In India, there are only 0.03% of the total population who are registered as potential blood stem cell donors which is significantly lower than many other countries including the US where 2.7% and Germany where 10% of the population registers as potential donors. Hence, the chances of finding a matching donor for Indian patients is as little as 10-15% in comparison to western countries where the chances are as high as 60-70%.

India is reeling under the pressure of many misconceptions that exist among people about blood stem cell donation, its process, and even its after-effects. There is a need to address this gap by increasing the donor registration base. The significantly low numbers of registration, just 0.03%, indicates the lack of awareness and also multiple misconceptions existing amongst people about the process of blood stem cell transplant. Some myths must be busted to ensure that there are more potential life savers.

Myth: Donating blood stem cells means losing them forever.

Fact: Stem cells have regenerative properties and can never deplete in a healthy human being. Stem cells in our body are generated every day in thousands.

 

Myth: Donating stem cells is a really invasive and painful process.

Fact: The process is comparable to a blood donation and is neither invasive nor painful. Blood stem cells are collected through peripheral blood stem cell collection (PBSC) which is a completely safe and non-surgical procedure. The process is similar to blood platelet donation that takes approximately four hours to complete and the donor can leave the clinic on the same day.

Myth: Blood donation and a blood stem cell donation are the same.

Fact: Unlike blood collection for transfusion, blood stem cells are collected only when there is a match between the donor and patient’s Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) combination (tissue type). So you could be potentially the only match and life saver for a person with blood cancer in need of a transplant. Blood stem cell donors donate only blood stem cells and the process is similar to a platelet donation.

 

Myth: I can’t register if I am pregnant.

Fact: If you are pregnant, you can still register. However, you will be blocked for two years post which your profile will be active in the database as a potential donor.

 

Myth: I will have prolonged side-effects post blood stem cell donation

Fact: No, there are no major side-effects post blood stem cell donation. There may be minor flu-like symptoms because of the GCSF injections administered before the donation to mobilise blood stem cells in the bloodstream.

 

Myth: I’m 50, I’m too old to donate.

Fact: Anyone between the age of 18 and 50 and in general good health can register as a potential blood stem donor. A potential donor remains in the registry till their 61st birth anniversary.

 

Myth: Piercing and/or tattoo is a restricting factor.

Fact: Piercing or a tattoo need not stop one from registering to be a potential donor. One needs to inform/alert the registry within four months of a tattoo or piercing.

 

Myth: My blood stem cells can be stored.

Fact: The blood stem cells will not be stored as they last for around 72 hours and are delivered to the recipient straight from the hospital by a special courier. If the recipient’s body accepts them, the stem cells will start making healthy blood cells.

 

Myth: I have high blood pressure so can’t donate.

Fact: High blood pressure generally does not affect blood stem cell donation if the condition is well-regulated with drugs or through an adapted diet.

 

Myth: Joining a blood stem cell registry is no use. Most patients can find a stem cell donor within their own families.

Fact: As per statistics, only 30% of blood disorder patients in need of a stem cell transplant are able to find a sibling match. About 70% of patients need an unrelated donor. A registry is a data bank of potential blood stem cell donors that houses details on thousands of blood stem cell donors. Any patient can benefit from this registry provided there’s an an HLA match.

(The author is director, DKMS-BMST Foundation)

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