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[BANGALORE] A team of Indian scientists has developed a next-generation sequencing (NGS) method that can assist organ transplants, bone cell marrow donations and stem cell therapy with lowered risk of rejection by the recipient’s body.

The team, drawn from the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Foundation for Revitalisation of Local Health Traditions (FRLHT), Bangalore Medical Services Trust (BMST) and Pacific Biosciences, published their work on sequencing human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes in the March edition of the Journal of Clinical and Cellular Immunology.

“HLA is the protein on white blood cells and part of the immune system in our body,” explains Latha Jagannathan, who manages blood banking at BMST which is setting up a stem cell donor registry to help bone marrow transplants. HLA comes into play when the body confronts anything that is foreign, such as transplants, and tries to reject it.

Prior knowledge of HLA allelic polymorphisms is clinically important for matching donor and recipient for organ and tissue transplantation. HLA allelic information is also useful in predicting immune responses to various infectious diseases, genetic disorders and autoimmune conditions, the authors say.

By sequencing HLA genes for tests and matching, the team hopes to make a database of various ethnic communities in India that could be of wider use. Says lead author and professor at FRHLT, Malali Gowda: “India has such variability; Americans, Africans, the Irish or anyone should be able to easily find a match in HLA types in our populations. Hence, it is important to build a database of the information so that treating blood cancer and transplanting organs becomes easier.”

“HLA typing has a major impact on organ and bone marrow transplants,” says Gowda. “They don’t match in people unless they are twins or siblings and there is a 30 per cent chance of finding a matching donor within a family. Nowadays, families have a kid or two, so these matches are rare to find.”

“I am from Hassan district. There are more chances of getting my HLA match in the people who live in and around Hassan and in my community. I may get a match in 5,000 people or less. In blood cancer too, if one looks into the patient’s community, the chances of getting an HLA match are higher,” says Gowda.

The HLA region comprises over 200 genes, but six HLA genes (class I-A, B, C and class II-DR, DP, DQ) are crucial for self non-self recognition. NGS technologies have made HLA typing much easier and quicker, Jagannathan says.

“The best part of NGS is that you can store thousands of samples. Then one can run cheaper, high volume and high throughput tests for better results in a short time.”

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s South Asia desk.