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To beat cancer,Stanford professor reaches out to Keralites in Delhi and elsewhere

Nalini Ambady,at Stanford University,now rests her hopes with the Malayali community in the capital.

Nalini Ambady,a psychology professor at Stanford University,now rests her hopes with the Malayali community in the capital.

When she fought and won against leukaemia eight years ago,she thought her battle was over. But when the cancer attacked again last November,her family began a search to find a bone marrow donor.

Her husband,a Gujarati and their two daughters (both under 18) did not fit the bill. When Ambady’s brother — siblings run a 25 per cent chance of having matching stem cell — too turned out to be a mismatch,the family widened their search across the globe.

Ambady’s family and friends have now called upon the Malayali community in the city and elsewhere to come forward and get tested as potential bone marrow donors. As Ambady is a Nair,the family is looking for donors from that community as they might have the same genetic make-up.

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Ambady has less than a month to find a matching stem cell donor. It was after the US National Marrow Donor Program,with over 10 million registered donors,failed to find a match that Ambady’s family and friends started the hunt in India.

Experts say that given the ethnic diversity,finding a match for a south Asian is difficult — one in 20,000 possibility. A bone marrow transplant entails the matching of 10 set of antigens,collectively termed the human leukocyte antigens.

“While Caucasians have a 74 per cent chance of finding a donor,South Asians like Nalini only have a five per cent chance. We did find 12 potential donors in the US,of which six declined to remain anonymous while the rest were found to be “not good” matches. With Nalini undergoing another round of chemotherapy and her body and heart already weak,we need at least a 9 on 10 match,” Nayantara Patel,Ambady’s cousin and a Delhi resident,said.


Effort are on to tap into Malayali associations and advertisements and appeals have been put out in newspapers seeking donors.

“We received a very good response in Kochi where 450 people signed up. Individuals are also contacting me and it is humbling to have strangers offering help,but the numbers here are not high enough. Also,the cost of the swab test is a limitation; it costs Rs 2,500 per sample,” Patel said.

“Nalini’s friends are paying for the test only for those from the Keralite community; volunteers from other communities are requested to come forth only if they are willing to pay for the test,” Patel said.


The samples will be sent to the US as India does not have the technology to carry out high-definition HLA testing,mandatory to know the immunological compatibility of donor and recipient.

First published on: 01-05-2013 at 03:05 IST
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