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Abstract

In India, umbilical cord blood stem cells are used to treat Thalassemia, Leukemias and related blood disorders, whereas stem cell treatment for all other disorders is classified under research and requires registration of a clinical trial with the governing body in India. This thesis draws on ethnographic immersion and conversations with haematologists, gynaecologists, lab technicians and people opting for banking in Chennai, South India. Public banking, characterized by anonymous donation and stem cell transplantation, is a curious but preferred form of insurance given the knowledge that there is a 0.04 per cent chance of using one's own cord blood in the future. On the other hand, private banks depend heavily on a proprietor- client relationship and earlier provided banking and usage of one’s own cord blood only. A hybrid of the public-private model called “community banking” is where a group of people becomes a private pool of users, who pay for, and bank their children's cord blood. And pregnant mothers are encouraged to store dried cord tissue/ cord blood in amulets, contents of which are ingested when the need arises. Moreover, the prevalence of cross cousin marriages in South India has led to inherited blood disorders like Thalassemia, the cure for which is a blood stem cell transplant from cord blood banked in canisters. In the quest for finding an exact match for an individual, the HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigen) becomes the node at the center of community genetics and language- specific donor registries. Key words: blood stem cells, cord blood, banking, genetics, life, India Note : Any errors contained in this dissertation are my own.

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