Abhijeet Solanki, a seven year old from Ahmedabad, Gujarat born with thalassemia major – a genetic disorder which leads to low haemoglobin count in the blood – has had up to 80 blood transfusions since he was born.
India has 40 million carriers of thalassemia, 100,000 out of which die before they turn the age of 20 due to lack of access to treatment. Thalassemia major is the most severe form of the disease, which occurs when a child inherits one mutated gene from each parent. Each year, 10,000 children with thalassemia major are born in India. It has no straight treatment except constant blood transfusions through donors and blood banks. The other life-altering option is a bone marrow transplant.
In 2017, Solanki came across the “saviour sibling” experiment—a baby created to be a donor of organs, bone marrow or cells to the sibling. The saviour sibling was a work of several months together—from detecting mutations, to creating embryos, screening them and matching them. The marrow takes at least 10-12 months to set in and there might be chances of reinfection.
While the concept of saviour siblings has raised ethical questions in some parts of the world, the Solankis are heaving sighs of relief.