A decade-old plan of the state government to start a stem cell lab at the Government Stanley Medical College and Hospital, for research in organ failures and therapy of blood disorders, is likely to start functioning by early 2019. If that happens, treatment for diseases such as multiple myeloma, leukemia, lymphoma and thalassemia will be available free of cost for patients, besides research for treatment of other ailments. The project which was approved in 2008, faced several hurdles including bureaucratic delays and was even pointed out by the comptroller auditor general in a recent report. Stem cells, found in embryos, cord blood and human beings, have the capability to develop into any kind of tissue. With the bank, the hospital will develop a therapy for end-stage liver diseases, for which the only option available now is liver transplant.
On December 10, officials from the Indian Council of Medical Research and Directorate General of Drug Control will visit the laboratory to check infrastructure, manpower and manufacturing practices for issue of license. “If we get the license, we will be able to start human trials for liver failure,” said surgical gastroenterologist Dr Jeswanth Satyanesan. At least 60 percent of the deliveries in the state happen in government hospitals and they will use cord blood and placenta as the main source of stem cells for research. Besides these, a small portion of healthy liver tissues dissected along with diseased livers during surgeries at the hospital can also be sources of stem cells, doctors said.
Though it sounds simple, it means a lot of work. Unlike the cells drawn from the embryo, not all cells in the cord blood or adult tissues are stem cells and have to be isolated after screening for diseases like hepatitis, HIV and rubella. They are later developed in a cultured medium. Doctors and scientists at the hospital have seen some success with stem cell therapy in animals. “We cause injuries in the livers of mice. Mice that were treated with stem cells had better outcomes compared to those given standard treatment. We are hoping this will work in humans too,” he said. The state is also considering setting up a public stem cell bank to provide stem cells at a subsidized cost, said director of medical education Dr A Edwin Joe. “Many people who opt for treatment in private hospitals can’t afford stem cells. We are planning to see if we can offer stem cells at a lower cost. Commercial aspects are yet to be worked out,” he said. – TOI