Swab Your Cheek. Save a Life.

11090823_10153158422787299_1743648218_oIn preparing for bone marrow registry drives, the Washington University Marrow Registry (WUMR) focuses on how to engage the student population in learning about and signing up for the National Bone Marrow Registry.  A constant concern is that when most people hear the words, “bone marrow donation,” they immediately flash to an image of a large needle jabbing into bone.

We know, however, that this reaction is unfounded. In 75 percent of cases, donors first receive injections of a hormone that promotes the release of stem cells into the blood.  Then, a procedure similar to dialysis takes place, in which the stem cells are filtered out of the blood and the remaining blood is returned to the donor.  This procedure is no more in­vasive than a normal blood draw.  In the other 25 percent of cases, donors are placed under anesthesia (no pain during surgery!), and marrow is removed from a bone in their hip.  The recovery period for this procedure is less than a week, and donors experience some soreness, similar to that resulting from a difficult workout.

In order to create a match between a donor and a recipient, doctors search the National Bone Marrow Registry which is run by Be The Match.  Be The Match keeps a record of the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers of every person who signs up to be on the bone marrow registry.  Each person has certain HLA markers on their stem cells, and the donor and the patient’s markers must match, or be almost completely identical, for a transplant to be successful.  Overall, about 1 in 500 people who join the registry will be called to donate their stem cells or bone marrow to a patient.

Because HLA markers are inherited, patients are most likely to find a donor from the same racial or ethnic background.  Since the likelihood of finding a bone marrow match depends on HLA factors, it often depends on the racial breakdown of the National Marrow Registry.  Within the National Marrow Registry, members of minority ethnic groups have a much lower chance of finding a match than those who are white due to disproportionate enrollments.  While 97 percent of White people will find a match, only 76 percent of African American or Black people will find a match, and 83 percent of Hispanic or Latino people will find a match.  Therefore, it is especially important for those from minority groups to join the bone marrow registry.

To join the registry, all that is required is a simple cheek swab and about 15 minutes of paperwork.  Once on the registry, potential donors remain on the registry until they are 60 years old.  For those that go on to donate bone marrow or stem cells, the experience can be extremely gratifying.  How often do you have the chance to be the one person in the world who can save another’s life?  With the gift of a bone marrow donation from a stranger, people battling life threatening diseases have another chance at life.

Upcoming WUMR Drives:

Sunday, April 5: 5-7:30 pm Village

Monday, April 6: 5-8 pm Park Mudd

Saturday, April 11: 7-10 pm Relay for Life

Sunday, April 12: 6-9 pm Village

Maddie Stewart is a sophomore from Boston, MA. She can be reached at madelinestewart@wustl.edu

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