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Haryana’s Cancer Village Awaits State Attention

Last year, the district administration even invited a team of cancer specialists from the World Cancer Care Charitable Society (WCCCS)

Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

Abdul Razzaq died of lung cancer last May. He was the fourth victim of cancer from a family that hails from Sakras village in Haryana’s most backward district, Nuh.

Before him, his three brothers — Bashir, Shahabuddin and Qayam Ali — lost their lives to cancer of chest, mouth and neck, respectively, within two and half years.

With over 50 cancer deaths reported in the past three years and 130 in the past 10 years, Sakras has gained the notoriety as the cancer hub of the region. There’s not a single family, which hasn’t lost a member to cancer, or a member of which isn’t making trips to hospitals in neighbouring Delhi or Rajasthan.

Most villagers blame the contaminated ground water, the only source of drinking water, for the epidemic. The region also lacks basic amenities like piped water, drainage and sanitation.

“Our village is one of the largest in Ferozpur Jhirka sub-town and has 28,000 plus population. Apart from the area near the drain, water is salty across the village. The villagers have dug borewells and installed submersible pumps next to drain to meet their daily water needs,” said Sameer Mohammad.

Villagers say the sewage from drain is contaminating the ground water, but they have no choice but to use it.

Former Sarpanch Fazaluddin Besar said the village had been witnessing cancer deaths for a while. But the number has risen alarmingly in the past three years. “I first brought it to the district administration’s notice in 2011 and the District Health Department even took samples of water from the village,” Besar said.

But the water samples failed to pass the test and the Health Department did not reveal results. “We have a strong suspicion that the ground water here is highly contaminated and toxic,” Besar said.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient.

Sarpanch Phool Chand said though teams of experts have been visiting the village to study reasons behind the high incidence of cancer, the district administration has taken no steps.

If the water was indeed contaminated, the district administration hadn’t bothered to install a community RO (reverse osmosis) water treatment system in the village, he said.

Chand ruled out the possibility of mobile towers being the cause of cancer cases. “In that case, there would be more patients of brain cancer. Most patients here have died from lung cancer and some from cancers of mouth and neck,” he said.

Last year, the district administration even invited a team of cancer specialists from the World Cancer Care Charitable Society (WCCCS).

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“We had a day-long camp at a local school. Our medical team took samples of seven types of cancer, like blood, lung, bones, mouth and brain, from around 700 villagers. A month later, we submitted our findings and recommendations to the district administration,” said Dr Dharmendra Dhillon, head of the WCCCS team.

“The district administration recently asked us to resubmit the report. We did it a fortnight back,” said Dr Dhillon.

“There are various reasons for cancer in the village, like contaminated drinking water, excessive use of pesticides, unhealthy living conditions and consumptions of non-organic food. It is for the district administration to do an in-depth study into the reasons,” Dr Dhillon said.

When contacted, Nuh Civil Surgeon Rajiv Batish said, “We are still analysing the WCCCS report to find the exact reasons for the disease.” (IANS)

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This Tiny Cell is Good News for Cancer Survivors

This approach to fertility restoration is safe," says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings

Cancer Ribbon. Pixabay

A scientist at the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH) in Mumbai — an institute under the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) — says a new type of stem cell identified by her team can help restore fertility in men and women who have undergone treatment for cancer.

Cancer treatment, or “oncotherapy”, that involves use of radiation and chemicals, renders patients infertile as an unwanted side effect and, while cured of cancer, they cannot beget children.

Though women are born with a lifetime reserve of “oocytes” ( immature eggs), these are wiped out by oncotherapy. In males, the testes responsible for the production of sperms, stop making them following cancer treatment.

Currently accepted approaches for fertility preservation require male patients to deposit their sperm in “cryo-banks” before beginning cancer treatment for later use. Similarly women, wanting to have children, must have their eggs or embryos “cryopreserved” for use after oncotherapy.

“Such approaches are invasive, expensive, technically challenging and depend on assisted reproductive technologies,” reports NIRRH cell biologist Deepa Bhartiya in the latest issue of the Indian Journal of Medical Research, the flagship journal of ICMR.

According to the report, there is now a way out. Bhartiya says research by her team over the years led to identification of a novel population of “Very Small Embryonic-Like stem cells (VSELs)”, in testis (in males) and ovaries (in females).

Being “quiescent” by nature, these primitive stem cells (VSELs) survive cancer therapy and therefore can offer young cancer survivors options to have children without having to bank their sperms or embryos prior to oncotherapy, says the report.

“The VSELs have remained elusive over decades due to their small size and presence in very few numbers,” says Bhartiya.

Cancer patient
Cancer patient.

The discovery of these unique VSELs (in testes and ovaries) that do not succumb to oncotherapy “opens up an alternative strategy to regenerate non-functional gonads and ovaries in cancer survivors”, says Bhartiya.

While VSELs survive cancer treatment, their original “habitat” (or niche) however gets destroyed by oncotherapy. To make the VSELs functional, their “niche” should be re-created by transplanting “mesenchymal cells” — another type of stem cells taken from the bone marrow — into the testes, says the report.

A simple and direct transplantation of “mesenchymal cells in the non-functional gonads may suffice to regenerate them,” says Bhartiya. “Similarly, transplantation of “ovarian surface epithelial cells” may allow the VSELs to regenerate nonfunctional ovaries.”

“This approach to fertility restoration is safe,” says Bhartiya pointing out to earlier studies carried out in her laboratory in mice which had shown that this method restored the role of non-functional ovaries and resulted in the birth of fertile offsprings.

“Our group also successfully restored spermatogenesis (sperm production) in non-functional mouse testis by transplanting niche (mesenchymal) cells, into the testis,” Bhartiya said.

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In the light of these findings, she says the field of oncofertility may undergo a sea-change and existing strategies of cryopreservation of gametes and gonadal tissue for fertility preservation in cancer patients will have to be revised. “Pilot clinical studies (in humans) need to be undertaken.”

“VSELs may be an alternative cell source for induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) clls,” Balu Manohar, managing director of Stempeutics Research, a Bengaluru-based stem cell company told this correspondent. “But it is still far away from the clinic as isolation and large scale expansion of these cells has to be standardised.” (IANS)