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Diversifying marrow registry critical to achieving medical equity, advocates say

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The “Be the Match” marrow registry has more than 39 million people signed up and willing to donate bone marrow or stem cells to those with blood cancers or other diseases, but the chances of finding a match drop significantly for non-white patients.

Tarita Gibson with “Be the Match” said, “The gap is for African-Americans 29% you’ll find a donor on the registry to 79% of Caucasians will find a donor on the registry.”

For Asian or Pacific Islander patients, there is a 47% chance of finding a match. Hispanic patients have a 48% chance of finding a match while there is a 60% chance for Native Americans. Gibson said because donors and patients need to share a similar genetic background to match, they need more diversity on the list to save lives.

Gibson said, “We want to have equal outcomes for all ethnic backgrounds, so it’s very important for people between the ages of 18-40 to join the registry, [and] get some education about the registry.”

One local doctor said donating bone marrow requires a minor surgical procedure and stem cell donation is similar to donating blood.

Dr. Yogesh Jethava, a Medical Oncologist at Indiana Blood and Marrow Transplantation, said, “The blood comes out of here, goes into the machine, the machine takes the stem cells, we call them mononuclear cells, they are taken out, and the rest of the blood is pushed back in you.”

Joining the registry is even easier. All you have to do is request a kit to your house, swab your mouth and send it back, then you are placed on a list and could be matched with anyone in the United States. This is important because family members are often not a match.

Jethava explained, “DNA is made up of four different strands and there is no guarantee that me and my brother will inherit exactly the same half from the parents.”

Be the Match is working to expand the registry with continued outreach and education.

“We do a lot of awareness events where people come to get awareness and learn what it’s all about,” Gibson said. “We educate groups all the time, student groups, organizations, corporations, we really need more donors on the registry.”

You can join the bone marrow registry by signing up here.