Tag Archives: #stemcell

Why Indian-Americans Should Renew the Stem Cell Program

As Indian-Americans, there are certain chronic conditions to which we are susceptible. These include blindness, heart disease, and certain forms of cancer.

Luckily, California’s stem cell program helps us fight back.

Officially titled the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, or CIRM, it is a citizens’ initiative, invented by patient advocate Bob Klein. Originally funded at three billion dollars, the funds have now been exhausted. We must decide whether to renew it and give it more funding, or let it die. We can save it by voting YES on Proposition 14, which will renew funds and the stem cell program

What is its value? Let’s watch it in action, against three chronic diseases that pose severe risks to Indian-Americans.

The first risk, Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), is a common form of blindness, and one that strikes Indian-Americans especially hard. It begins as a tiny dot in the eye, barely visible. But with time it expands, eventually enlarging to the size of a coin, and followed sometimes by total blindness.

For CIRM scientists, AMD is a challenge, not a stopping point. Working cooperatively, Mark Humayun, Amir Kashani, and David Hinton of the University of Southern California, and Dennis Clegg of the University of California at Santa Barbara are studying therapies for dry AMD, while Pete Coffey of University College, London, in the UK is focused on treating wet AMD. Both groups are trying to replace dysfunctional cells of the eye with fresh ones. What was their approach to fighting blindness?

“An eye patch,” said Peter Coffey, “Like repairing a bicycle tire. Put a layer of stem cells on a sticky plaster, add that to the back of the eyeball.” Is it working?

“Our first patient could only read one word a minute. Today, four years later, he can read 80 words a minute,” said Dr. Coffey.

“Because of CIRM, we are restoring biology to a level where people no longer just exist, but actually live, because of the treatment.” –“Revolutionary Therapies”, Don C. Reed, World Scientific Publishing, Inc.

A second condition common in Indian-Americans, hypertension (a type of fatal heart disease), is being fought with a CIRM grant. 

A report continues, “Michael Lewis [and] a team at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center [are] using donor heart cells to reduce two hallmark symptoms of pulmonary hypertension: inflammation and high blood pressure in the blood vessels within the lungs. These conditions make the heart struggle to pump blood to the lungs and can ultimately lead to heart failure. This treatment aims to delay the progression of the disease.”

A third condition is prostate cancer. The co-author of this piece, Don Reed, had prostate cancer, but it has not returned, after his treatment with surgery, radiation, and hormone therapy, but there are more deadly forms.

Fortunately, CIRM is finding ways to fight back.

A company called Poseida was funded by CIRM in its late pre-clinical stages to help reinforce the body’s natural defense cells, the T cells, (part of the immune system) to “more efficiently target, bind to and destroy the cancerous cells. CIRM’s early funding led to the ability of Poseida to carry its studies into clinical trials.

CIRM is designed to rigorously review experts’ proposals and meet important scientific milestones. Everyone – including the public – can comment.

Stem cell research has the power to help tens of millions of people suffering from an incurable disease, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart disease, spinal cord injuries, blindness, infectious diseases like COVID, and many others common in the Indian-American population.

How can you help?

CIRM is running low on funds. If its work is to continue, there must be a new initiative— Proposition 14, the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020. Vote for Proposition 14 and help save lives!

To be voted on this November, it will renew 5.5 billion dollars in funding for CIRM, paid for by the sale of tax-free government bonds. Only ½ of one percent of the state’s available bonds will be used, leaving 99.5 percent available for other purposes.

This initiative is NOT a tax. Spread out over several decades, the total will be barely $5 per person per year – a small price to pay to potentially save millions of lives and billions of dollars in the future. As Bob Klein puts it, the cost of a bottle of aspirin.

Please join the more than 70 patient advocate groups, Nobel Prize-winning scientists, doctors, and educators (including the University of California board of regents) in recommending Proposition 14: the California Stem Cells for Research, Treatments and Cures Initiative of 2020:

Do it to save lives. Do it for someone you love.

Vote YES ON 14!

Yuvraj Walia is a 14-year-old supporting Prop 14! He is a Freshman at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont and currently serves on the Patient and Medical Advisory Committee for Prop 14, to renew funds for the state stem cell agency, CIRM.

Don Reed is Vice President of Public Policy for Americans for Cures Foundation. He is also the author of the book, California Cures! How the California Stem Cell Program is Fighting Your Incurable Disease!

Ethnicity Matters to Stem Cell Recipients

Indians are dying unnecessarily from blood cancers. There is a shortage of Indians available on the national registry to assist fellow Indians who have been diagnosed with leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood cancers. What’s the solution? To encourage more Indians/South Asians to register as potential stem cell donors.

“Registering is easy,” says Dinesh Chandrasekhar, who along with his wife, registered at the Hindu temple in Livermore, CA. “It only takes about 5 minutes. You can complete the online registration and a swab kit will be mailed to you. When you receive the kit, swab the inside of your cheek and pop the kit in the mail. Postage is pre-paid and you don’t have to leave your home. And, the testing is free.”

Dinesh serves as an ambassador for the Asian American Donor Program (AADP), a 30-year-old nonprofit organization in Alameda, CA that works to educate Indians and other ethnically diverse people about the importance of registering as potential stem cell donors. In the past year, AADP has worked with 10 Indian patients in need.

Joining the Be The Match® registry means volunteering to be listed as a potential blood stem cell donor, ready to save the life of any patient anywhere in the world who is in need of a transplant.

“With the coronavirus pandemic and the need for six-foot distancing, we have canceled our in-person community registration events,” says Carol Gillespie, AADP’s executive director. “So, our community education and awareness efforts, which generate new donors, are suffering and blood cancer patients are worried.”

The coronavirus has had a dismal impact on patients diagnosed with blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, and other illnesses treatable by a stem cell transplant. Blood cancer patients are afraid that a life-saving donor will not be found in time. They are scared that if a matching donor is found, that person, because of COVID-19, will not want to go to a clinic to have their stem cells collected.

Locating a stem cell donor and having a stem cell transplant is an example of a health care disparity. For people of color, there is a shortage of donors on the Be The Match® national registry. Patients of South Asian/Indian heritage face challenges, as the population is severely under-represented as donors.

At any given time, there are 12,000 people looking for a matching stem cell donor to help save their life. Patients are from all walks of life and are from numerous racial and ethnic groups.

Dinesh Chandrasekhar’s Story

Dinesh and his wife registered with the AADP as potential stem cell donors. Then, in the fall of 2014, Dinesh was notified that he was a match for a patient. 

“I got very excited about the opportunity of being able to help someone in need, but at the same time, I suddenly got apprehensive about the process,” Dinesh says. “But, after talking with an amazing person at Be The Match®, I was completely clear about what I was expected to do. After that, I had no fear.”

Dinesh liked that the stem cell donation process was simple and convenient for him, the donor. And, there were no expenses for him.

When lab work found that Dinesh had high blood pressure, the transplant procedure was called off.“I was never more disappointed in my life,” he says. “It was a huge shock that I could not donate.

In January 2015, Dinesh was notified again that he was a match for a patient in need. He was asked how his blood pressure was and he said he and his doctor worked on it and it was now normal. In April of 2015, Dinesh donated his peripheral blood stem cells.

Dinesh donating stem cells.

“It ended up that I donated for the same patient. And, interestingly, we are both the same age. It was like destiny,” Dinesh says.

The process at Stanford Hospital took a little more than four hours. Dinesh’s blood was taken out of Dinesh’s arm and then cycled through a machine that separates the stem cells from the other blood cells. The stem cells are kept in a separate bag, while the rest of the blood is returned to the donor. During this time, Dinesh watched TV shows.

“I was mind blown about the science behind this and that this (his stem cells) would produce immunity in another person who was compatible with my stem cells,” Dinesh says.

“Giving your stem cells is not like you are donating a part of your body (kidney, liver, etc.),” Dinesh says. 

Before going to a clinic or hospital, donors are given shots that stimulate white blood cell production. “This production moves blood stem cells from the marrow into the bloodstream so that the stem cells can be collected from the donor,” says Gillespie.  “So you are missing nothing.”

Upon returning home, Dinesh ate lunch and slept for about three hours. “The next morning I felt normal and went back to work,” he says. “I would do it again.”

After six months, Dinesh was told that his recipient was doing well and back to their normal life.

“Registering and, then, donating my stem cells was fulfilling,” Dinesh says. “As human beings, we are here to help each other.”

Join the registry by texting AADP to 61474 or visit AADP. Visit AADP’s Instagram page for upcoming Live Interviews. AADP also hosts special events.