It’s official….I am now listed on the national bone marrow registry! Now I’m a little embarrassed that is took me so long to finally sign up, given that I work for the Bone Marrow and Translation Department at Stanford AND my research directly involves maximizing the benefits of a transplant while trying to minimize some harsh side effects like Graft versus Host Disease. But nevertheless, it’s now set in stone, and I wanna do my part by giving a proper public service announcement.
I signed up via a website called BeTheMatch.org. The process is fairly simple. First you fill out a waiver of sorts online (typical medical background questionnaire) to determine if you qualify to be a donor. Then they’ll send you a package in the mail with all the necessary information and equipment to create cotton swab samples of your inner check cells. (Painless and they will have more than enough DNA for their haplotyping analysis). Then just place everything back in the prepackaged and preaid envelope, and THAT’S IT!
In order to convey the importance of being a bone marrow donor, I need to delve into some basic biology. Bone marrow transplants are used as a means to transplant a new immune system into a recipient. Often times they are necessary when an individual develops leukemia, or cancer of the immune system. The new immune system acquired from the bone marrow offers a two-fold benefit–it actively targets the leukemia and creates a new immune system. HOWEVER, not every joe schmo can be your donor. Very similar to people having different blood types (Type A, Type B, Type O), we have different MHC proteins that are expressed on every cell in the body. As the body develops, it develops a tolerance for your own MHC proteins, and simultaneously develops an ability to attack MHC proteins that are “foreign” to the body. Therefore the more different from your own the MHC protein is, the more likely your body will react.
Hence the entire purpose of the DNA testing is to determine one’s MHC protein makeup, aka one’s haplotype. By determining your DNA makeup, BeTheMatch can determine the level of similarity you will have with a needy recipient. The reason it is especially important for people to do it now-a-days is that there is more genetic diversity in the population. What I mean is that with mixed race individuals, such as myself, it’s harder to find a match. Hence it is essential for other people of mixed origin to donate. You never know who may be the person who needs it most. And since it’s a very simple process, although it is actually pretty painful, you could literally save a life and you’ll just have a sore bum for a few days.