Red Cross urges stem cell fund­ing

Nearly 1,700 pa­tients wait­ing on donors


The Thai Red Cross So­ci­ety (TRC) has urged the gov­ern­ment to in­crease fund­ing for stem cell schemes to help peo­ple with blood dis­eases.

TRC yes­ter­day said there is a need to in­crease the num­ber of peo­ple do­nat­ing stem cells from their blood or bone mar­row, but the test to find a po­ten­tial donor does not come cheap.

Ac­cord­ing to TRC, it has reg­is­tered about 209,983 un­re­lated donors since 2002. But only 217 re­cip­i­ents have so far matched with donors and had suc­cess­ful trans­plants.

“The more donors we get, the bet­ter our chances of sav­ing more lives,” said Ubon­wan Jarun­re­ungrit, direc­tor of the Na­tional Blood Cen­tre of the Thai Red Cross So­ci­ety.

Dr Ubon­wan said al­though the num­ber of stem cell donors in Thai­land has grown steadily since 2002, it is still far lower than de­mand, with al­most 1,700 pa­tients in Thai­land on a life-or-death wait­ing list hop­ing for a match.

The search for a stem cell match usu­ally starts with the pa­tient’s sib­lings, which has a 25% chance of suc­cess, she said. But with un­re­lated donors, the match rate is far lower, with a one in 10,000 chance, she said.

Dr Ubon­wan said lim­ited fund­ing had hin­dered the pro­cess­ing of stem cell dona­tions, an ex­pen­sive process.

Each donor must un­dergo a test that costs about 2,000 baht to iden­tify their hu­man leu­co­cyte anti­gen (HLA) typ­ing. HLA is a pro­tein found on most cells in the body.

The HLA re­sults are then en­tered into the Donor Registry sys­tem which au­to­mat­i­cally matches re­cip­i­ents with po­ten­tial donors.

In case the HLA-typ­ing of a donor is iden­ti­fied as a po­ten­tial match, the donor will be con­tacted by the Na­tional Registry.

Stem cell trans­plants can now be per­formed in only five hos­pi­tals with ad­vanced equip­ment across the coun­try, but many pa­tients with blood can­cer live in ru­ral ar­eas. Four of the five hos­pi­tals — Ra­math­i­bodi, Siri­raj, Chu­la­longkorn and Phra­mongkutk­lao — are in Bangkok. The only hos­pi­tal per­form­ing the ser­vice out­side the cap­i­tal is Songk­lana­garind Hos­pi­tal in Songkhla’s Hat Yai dis­trict.

Even if a match is found, pa­tients may not be able to af­ford the trans­plant costs of up to 1.2 mil­lion baht be­cause the gov­ern­ment’s Civil Ser­vant Wel­fare, So­cial Se­cu­rity and Uni­ver­sal Cov­er­age schemes do not cover the full cost of trans­plants.

“We need sup­port from the gov­ern­ment to bring more stem cell donors into the pool and re­duce the cost of trans­plants. We also need sup­port from the me­dia to raise pub­lic aware­ness and un­der­stand­ing of how stem cell dona­tions can breathe new life into ail­ing and suf­fer­ing peo­ple,” Dr Ubon­wan said.

Dr Ubon­wan said TRC has set a tar­get of 300,000 donors for its registry in the long run, adding it would match with the num­ber of pa­tients with blood dis­eases in Thai­land.

In hon­our of World Mar­row Donor Day, TRC yes­ter­day held an event called “Thank You Stem Cell Donor” at its head­quar­ters on Henry Du­nunt Road to raise aware­ness about the need for donors and to get po­ten­tial donors to sign up.

To reg­is­ter as a donor in Thai­land, peo­ple can visit the Thai Red Cross Na­tional Blood Cen­tre and join the Thai Stem Cell Donor Registry by call­ing +66 (2) 256-4300 or +66 (2) 252-1637.

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