MUMBAI: Friends of Nalini Ambady, the Stanford psychology professor who has less than a month to find a matching stem cell donor to beat her leukaemia, have called upon the south Indian community in the city and elsewhere to come forward and get tested.
Ambady’s friends have been looking for a potential bone marrow donor in the country for over six months now, but without success.
The 54-year-old award-winning professor had fought away leukaemia eight years ago, but the life-threatening disease made a comeback last November. With a bone marrow transplant her only hope, Ambady’s family took to the social media platform to start an international search for a donor match.
Ambady’s family started the hunt in India only after the biggest registry in the world, the US’ National Marrow Donor Program with over 10 million donors, failed to find a match.
Recently, her friends further narrowed down their search to Kochi, Ambady’s hometown, and the reports are expected to arrive from the US in about three weeks. India still does not have the technology to carry out high definition HLA testing, mandatory to know the immunological compatibility of donor and recipient.
“The idea is to tap the south Indian community, particularly those hailing from Kerala,” said Dilip D Souza, a friend helping with the campaign in the city. “She has very little time and so we would be taking the search to the Malayali community based in Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi over the next few weeks.”
Unlike in the city, the search in other places would be decentralized, with Ambady’s friends distributing kits to different parts of a city to facilitate testing for willing donors.
Experts say that given the ethnic diversity, finding a match for a south Asian is difficult. A bone marrow transplant entails matching 10 most crucial set of antigens, collectively termed the human leukocyte antigens.
“We need a donor pool of at least 10 million Indians before people can hope to find a match,” said Dr Sunil Parekh, founder-head of Marrow Donor Registry of India.
He lamented that in the absence of government support, the databases are difficult to grow and sustain. “In all developing countries, donor registries are funded by the government, but here it is mostly a private initiative,” said Parekh.
He said he had to raise over Rs 9 crore from trusts and corporations to get the profiles of 15,000 registered donors.
“Testing donors is costly and can be a limitation in finding one,” said Parekh. To meet the costs, Ambady’s friends are giving Rs 2,500 per sample.
TESTS IN THE CITY
Place: Shree Cutchi Lohans Seva Mandal, Rambaug, Lakshminarayan Lane (Rambaug Lane), Matunga
When: Sunday, April 27
Time: 11am to 3pm
The test: It involves providing a cheek swab. It is non-invasive and no blood tests are involved at this stage
(Sumitra Deb Roy, TNN)