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Embryonic stem-cell therapy can treat incurable conditions: Researcher Geeta Shroff

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By Nishant Arora

Fifteen years ago when scientists the world over were still trying to understand the health benefit of the human stem-cell technology, an Indian specialist in the field took a step that left many in the scientific community bemused.

In 2000, she developed two purely human embryonic stem cell lines from just one fertilized egg. The cell-based therapy has since helped many patients improve their quality of life and live a stress-free life.

“I have been working in this field for over 15 years. Of these, 13 years have been spent in clinical application also. As a doctor, it is very satisfying to see improvements in the condition of your patient. However, since cell-based therapy is a very new field, greater education of the masses is required,” Dr. Geeta Shroff, founder and director of Nutech Mediworld, told IANS in an interview.

She offers treatment to patients suffering from conditions that are currently labelled as incurable. At Nutech Mediworld in New Delhi, she says her team has successfully treated over 1,400 patients from India and abroad. She has also written about her research in international journals.

Shroff recently treated a 38-year-old woman who was getting bruises all over her body and suffered from excessive fatigue. She was diagnosed as suffering from aplastic anaemia with severe anaemia and severe thrombocytopenia – deficiency of platelets in the blood, which causes bleeding into the tissues, bruising and slow blood clotting after injury.

The diagnosis was devastating because the condition leads to fatality. She had already undergone multiple blood transfusions. She was prescribed steroids and was in line for anti-thymocyte globulin (ATG) treatment which has low therapeutic safety and many side effects.

The inconvenience and stress of the blood transfusions, coupled with excessive fatigue, left her with little energy for anything else. Her platelet count continued to be less than 20,000.

“The patient heard about the cell-based therapy being offered by us and decided to undergo it. Today, she no longer requires blood transfusion and is leading a steroid-free life. Her CBC remains normal with Platelet count above 60,000. She no longer gets bruises easily,” Shroff said.

For the therapy, the two cell lines are derived from a single fertilized ovum obtained during a natural in vitro-fertilization (IVF) cycle with due consent.

Chromosomally stable cell lines free from contaminants are used.

“This technology does not require the administration of immunosuppressants. The ready to use form can be stored for more than six months and can be transported easily under temperature controlled conditions,” said the doctor.

The treatment is safe and effective and the results are not only replicable, but are also statistically significant, she said.

“As with all treatments, the cost of the therapy is based on the treatment protocol. This is further based on the diagnosis, patient’s condition, duration of illness, age, etc.,” she added.

Internationally, there have been several studies in the recent past on human embryonic stem cell therapy that paves the way for patient therapies.

According to a study published in the journal Scientific Reports in November last year by the scientists at the University of Edinburgh, stem cells that have been specifically developed for use as clinical therapies are fit for use in patients.

Dr Shroff is confident that the therapy has the potential of treating many of mankind’s worst known afflictions.

“It is our mission to see human embryonic stem cell therapy as the first line of treatment for many of mankind’s worst afflictions. Our technology has been patented in 66 countries, including the US, Singapore, Australia, Japan and Korea,” Dr Shroff said. (IANS)(Photo: westonmedicalhealth.com)

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Kenya’s First Breast Milk Bank to Combat Newborn Mortality

There are misconceptions and concerns about hygiene and the spread of disease to newborns in the use of donated milk. Murage noted that all donors' health would checked at the hospital and that the milk would be pasteurized.

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Kenya, newborn Mortality
A lab technician at the Mothers' Milk Bank of New England in Newtonville, Mass., pours donated breast milk into another flask to prepare for pasteurization. Kenya will soon be getting Africa's second bank for donated breast milk. VOA

Joshua Okumu’s wife, Mary Mwanja, died during childbirth 18 years ago at Pumwani Maternity Hospital in Nairobi. But their daughter survived.

When he picked up his newborn baby at the nursery, grief-stricken and shocked, Okumu was not entirely sure how to feed her.

Kenya, newborn Mortality
Plans are underway to bring a human milk bank to Nairobi as a joint effort between the Kenya Ministry of Health and PATH. The bank will be housed in Pumwani Maternity Hospital. VOA

“So when I reached home, I started feeding her with a packet of milk called Tuzo,” he said. “By that time, Tuzo was not diluted like nowadays. So, that is what I was using to feed the small baby when I took her from the hospital. If the mum was there it would have been healthier to be fed by her mum.”

For Kenyan widowers like Okumu, there will soon be another option: human donor milk.

Pumwani is getting Kenya’s first breast milk bank, which will be only the second of its kind on the continent. The other one is in South Africa.

The bank is a joint initiative by Kenya’s Ministry of Health and PATH, a U.S.-based nonprofit health organization. It will open in September for donations and offer free breast milk by prescription for babies who cannot get it from their mothers.

Newborn Mortality in kenya
Dr. Elizabeth Kimani Murage, head of maternal and child well-being at the African Population and Health Research Center. VOA

‘Next best option’

Dr. Elizabeth Kimani Murage, head of maternal and child well-being at the African Population and Health Research Center, is behind the project.

“The World Health Organization recommends that if the mother’s own breast milk is not available for the baby for any reason, the best next option would be the donor milk,” she said. “So the recommendation is to make donor milk available to such vulnerable babies.”

The milk bank aims to help orphaned and malnourished babies get the nutrients essential to healthy development.

Murage said mother’s milk has an enormous impact on child survival, especially during the first month of life.

Kenya, newborn Mortality
The Pumwani Maternity Hospital’s policy on breastfeeding is displayed on this bronze plate. VOA

“Despite improvements in infant mortality, neonatal mortality is reducing at a very slow rate, so those are the children we want to target,” she said. “According to the Every Newborn Action Plan [from the World Health Organization and UNICEF], we should actually reduce neonatal mortality to 12 deaths per 1,000 live births. But, you see, we are very far [from that goal]. We are at 22.”

There are misconceptions and concerns about hygiene and the spread of disease to newborns in the use of donated milk. Murage noted that all donors’ health would checked at the hospital and that the milk would be pasteurized to ensure that only safe and healthful breast milk is given to babies in need. (VOA)