Stem cells needed from ethnic communities
Registration takes only a cheek swab is all that is needed to register and donation is often as simple as giving blood
BY TARA CARMAN, VANCOUVER SUN OCTOBER 20, 2011
Ethnically diverse stem cell donors are needed to help Canadian patients with cancer and blood diseases such as leukemia.
When University of B.C. biochemistry student Bonita Ma heard about the need, she and some other students decided their campus would be a good place to attract such donors, who need to be aged between 17 and 50. UBC will hold a donor drive on October 26 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the student union building.
The campaign, which is happening at universities throughout the country, is called Get Swabbed because getting a cheek swab is all that’s required to register to become a donor. The saliva is tested for DNA and put on a national registry which can then be searched by doctors. If a donor is found to be a match for a patient in need, the donation process is often as simple as collecting blood, said Olga Pazukha, spokeswoman for the OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, which recruits donors and coordinates collection and delivery of stem cells.
About 30 per cent of the time a donor match can be found within a patient’s family, but when this is not possible, patients are matched to donors through specific genetic markers that make them unique. This is where ethnicity becomes important, Pazukha said.
“A lot of those things would come from their ethnic background. So, say if I’m of South Asian descent and I need a match, my potential donor would also be someone from the South Asian community.”
There are more than 300,000 potential donors registered throughout Canada, but 77 per cent of them are of European descent, while 23 per cent are from other ethnic backgrounds, Pazukha said.
“It’s really important to get a very diverse donor pool so that we are able to help all of the patients that are looking for matches in Canada.”
Ma, who is of Chinese descent, said many people from that community don’t realize how easy the donation process is and have a misperception that it is very painful. OneMatch is reaching out to ethnic communities across Canada to educate people about the need for donors and the relatively simple nature of the process, Pazukha said.
There are 957 patients across the country in need of a match.
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