The parents of five-year-old Zain Hashmi, who is affected by the inherited blood disorder beta thalassaemia, are to launch a bone marrow donor appeal this week. Raj and Shahana Hashmi first hit the headlines in 2001, when they requested permission to use PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) to try and conceive a baby who would be able to provide tissue-matched cord blood cells to treat Zain.
On 24 November, Zain's Bone Marrow Foundation - the charity set up by the Hashmis - will launch an appeal for more people from ethnic minorities to register as potential bone marrow donors. Zain's condition means that his body does not produce enough red blood cells, so he has to have life-saving blood transfusions every three weeks. A transplant of blood stem cells from a matched donor, either from bone marrow or umbilical cord blood, could cure Zain. However, despite a worldwide search, the Hashmis have failed to find a suitable donor. Many of the bone marrow donors registered in the UK are Caucasian, and so not suitable for ethnic and race patients requiring donors, the charity say.
Representatives from the Anthony Nolan Trust and the Bone Marrow Register will join the Hashmis at the launch, which will form part of a conference at the Natural History Museum in London. Zain Hashmi will be the first speaker at the meeting, and will tell delegates: 'I've got a broken bone marrow. I've already had to have more than 100 blood transfusions. I have one every three weeks of my life. I just want to get better'. The charities attending the conference also hope to launch an annual International Blood and Bone Marrow Awareness Week.
As well as continuing their search for a donor, the Hashmis say they plan to continue with their attempts to have a tissue-matched baby who could provide life-saving cord blood for Zain. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) first granted the couple permission to try and conceive a 'saviour sibling' in February 2002, but their treatment was put on hold until a year later, following a legal challenge from pro-life group Core (Comment on Reproductive Ethics). The ruling was later overturned, but despite several rounds of IVF treatment, Shahana has not yet had a baby who could help cure her son. She has miscarried several times, but the couple are now planning to try the procedure again in the New Year.