India’s first ‘saviour sibling’ cures brother of fatal illness

Published:Tuesday, 27 Oct 2020 01:10

India’s first ‘saviour sibling’ cures brother of fatal illness

The story of India’s first “saviour sibling” has made national headlines. It has also raised questions about the ethics of using technology to create a child only to save or cure a sibling in a country with poor regulatory systems. The BBC’s Geeta Pandey in Delhi reports.

Kavya Solanki was born in October 2018 and in March, when she was 18 months old, her bone marrow was extracted and transplanted into Abhijit, her seven-year-old brother.

Abhijit suffered from thalassaemia major, a disorder where his haemoglobin count was dangerously low and he required frequent blood transfusions.

“Every 20-22 days, he needed 350ml to 400ml blood. By the age of six, he’d had 80 transfusions,” his father Sahdevsinh Solanki told me on the phone from their home in Ahmedabad, the largest city in the western state of Gujarat.

“Abhijit was born after my first daughter. We were a happy family. He was 10 months old when we learnt that he was thalassaemic. We were devastated. He was weak, his immune system was compromised and he often became ill.

“And when I found out that there was no cure for his illness, my grief doubled,” Mr Solanki said.

To understand better what ailed his son, he began reading all the literature he could find on the disease, researching possible cures and sought advice from medical experts.

When he heard about bone marrow transplant as being a permanent cure, he began exploring it. But the family’s bone marrow, including Abhijit’s older sister’s, wasn’t a match.

In 2017, he came across an article on “saviour siblings” – a baby created for the purpose of donating organs, cells or bone marrow to an older sibling.