Students address lack of minority bone marrow

BY EMILY KRAACK
Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 24, 2002

Bone marrow transplants save lives. This was the message at the minority bone marrow drive held Wednesday at the Michigan Union.

But these drives focus on more than just registering potential bone marrow donors - they also stressed the importance of finding minority bone marrow donors.

"There's such a lack of minority bone marrow. That's why we put this on," said Arpi Doshi, second-year Medical student and president of United Asian American Medical Student Association.

Recent drives have tried to alleviate the shortage of minority bone marrow, which can only be transplanted if a potential recipient can find a donor with closely matched antigens (genetically-coded proteins in the marrow).

Tom Nelis, a marrow recruiter for the Michigan Community Blood Centers, said about 80 percent of whites can find potential matches outside of their families. But because minority populations are small and not everyone registers to be a bone marrow donor, it is much harder to find a match for minority recipients.

"For non-Caucasians, the chances of finding a match are very, very low," said Jennifer Huang, a second-year Medical student and co-community service chair for UAAMSA."For people of mixed races it's very difficult. The antigens are very hard to find. ... It makes a good reason why we should get everyone registered (to donate)," Nelis said. He also stressed the importance of bone marrow in medical treatment for about 65 diseases. The most frequent diseases requiring bone marrow transplants include aplastic anemia and blood cancers like leukemia and lymphomas.

Although the best bone marrow match usually comes from within a person's family, sometimes a marrow drive is necessary to find a match, but this can be an expensive process.

Huang said the government will pay for antigen matching for minorities and will frequently cover the costs of minority bone marrow drives. The drives on Wednesday were sponsored by the MCBC, which supplies blood products to hospitals throughout Michigan.

Nelis said that without a transplant, critically ill patients will die. "Bone marrow is your last opportunity."

A bone marrow drive is unlike a blood drive in that people who show up for the bone marrow drive give only a little blood to be tested, which is recorded in a national registry at the National Marrow Donor Program. The NMDP, which ran the campus bone marrow drives, has performed over 15,000 bone marrow matches since its inception in the late 1980s.

However, the odds that someone registered will actually be called upon to donate marrow are small. Nelis said that of the 37,000 people registered to donate, only 200 were matched to a recipient.

Along with the NMDP, the drives were conducted by a number of Medical student groups, including the UAAMSA, the Latin American and Native American Medical Association and the Black Medical Association.

Undergraduate student groups Huaren, the Black Student Union, the Chinese Student Association, the Filipino American Student Association, the Indian American Student Association and Lambda Phi Epsilon also held a minority bone marrow drive on Wednesday in the Union.