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Mixed races are at added risk for stem cell transplants

By KJ Mullins     Jun 8, 2009 in Health
Finding bone marrow or stem cell donors is never easy. Because stem cells have to match similar DNA markers, or HLA antigens, it is the one time that race makes a huge difference in the donation process.
People who need blood or an organ have to rely on blood type but not so much on the DNA markers. That all changes when the transplant that is needed is a stem cell and bone marrow. Because of the complexities of these types of transplants everything is on the line, and a mistake means death.
In different populations in the world certain proteins were developed to help with the body's natural defense. Those markers can easily be rejected in a person that needs a transplant and doesn't have them. Those with mixed ethnicity have uncommon markers and that makes finding a donor often an impossibility.
Those who volunteer to be on a donor registry for stem cells and bone marrow are most often Caucasian. In Canada 83 percent of those on OneMatch are white, 0.5 per cent are black and only 0.13 are people of multiple ethnicity.
In Canada there are 741 patients that need a stem cell or bane marrow transplant. Often their best bet is a relative but having the same family doesn't always mean that they are a match when it comes to stem cells. OneMatch has 20,000 people registered but that is not enough to cover the needs of those requiring a transplant. In 2006 77 per cent of stem cell transplants used by those in Canada had to be imported through other countries.
More about Bone marrow, Stem cells, Mixed race