According to a story from Vice World News, the Solanki family, who are residents of Ahmedabad, the largest city in India’s western state of Gujarat, recently took action to save the life of their seven year old son, named Abhijeet. The boy was born with beta thalassemia major and required frequent blood transfusions to stay alive. In a bid to save his life, the Solanki’s had another baby, named Kavya.
About Beta Thalassemia
Beta thalassemia is a group of genetic disorders which affect the blood. These disorders are characterized by the abnormal production of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells which allows them to transport oxygen. The severity of the disorder can vary widely from person to person and depends on the present mutation. These mutations affect the HBB gene which is found on chromosome 11. These mutations can be easily passed down within families. Symptoms of beta thalassemia major, the most severe form, include spleen problems, skeletal abnormalities, poor growth, anemia, liver problems, diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart failure. Treatment for beta thalassemia may include blood transfusions, surgery, and bone marrow transplant, which can be curative for some children. There is a need for improved treatments for patients with severe cases. To learn more about beta thalassemia, click here.
Kavya: The “Savior Sibling”
The best chance for Abhijeet to live a normal life was to undergo a bone marrow transplant, but no one in the family, including his older sister, was a match. The family then learned about a ‘savior sibling’ experiment, in which embryos are created in a lab setting for the specific purpose of being used to donate tissue to an older sibling. Kavya was the only match out of 18 embryos created for the experiment, and she was born via in-vitro fertilization in 2018. Abhijeet was able to successfully undergo a transplant using her bone marrow.
There are some potential ethical concerns that arise with the savior sibling approach, which requires a process called pre-implantation genetic diagnosis to screen for a donor match or genetic conditions. Some have argued that pre-implantation diagnosis be banned, and it is illegal in some countries. Critics have also argued that it smacks of eugenics or ‘designer babies.’
In the case of the Solankis, Kavya’s life will not be affected and the donation was merely a one time procedure. Without the transplant, it is unlikely that Abhijeet would have lived past age 30. This is the first experiment of its kind conducted in India.