The difficulties faced recently by a young surgeon in getting a suitable bone marrow donor for himself, drew the attention of the trustees of Bangalore Medical College Development Trust. This young surgeon was stricken with a form of blood cancer that was curable; the only treatment was to kill all these cancerous marrow cells and replace them with fresh non-cancerous marrow from a healthy donor, provided the donor and the young surgeon had a good ‘genetic match’.
The bone marrow transplant, as it is called, drastically increases the survival rate of patients stricken with this form of blood cancer. He faced the problem of not having enough donors on a donor list; it was an uphill task to mobilise potential donors from among his relatives and friends. After this struggle, the process of getting all of them HLA typed (a process of genetic analysis that is essential for ‘matching’) was prohibitively expensive. Eventually, in spite of his best efforts, he failed to find a matching donor and eventually succumbed to his disease.
Many others, well known or otherwise have suffered a similar fate; recently after a year-long worldwide campaign by her students, friends and family to find a bone marrow donor for her, Nalini Ambady, a Stanford professor of Indian origin, succumbed to leukaemia. As many as 13 matching donors for the 54-year-old professor had been found in the global search by her near and dear ones. While 6 were only half matches, rest of them ultimately refused to donate. Donor registries work towards creating a diverse database where the search of a life-saving donor meets a match.