Stem cell donors urged to sign up

BY SHAFAQ PARWEZ

Wilfrid Laurier University students gathered for noble causes on March 2.

The afternoon saw students en masse coming forward to donate blood at a walk-in blood donation clinic in the Senate and Board chambers while the cafeteria housed a One Match stem cell and bone marrow information booth.

The organizers of the Get Swabbed at Laurier event raised awareness about stem cell donation and registered potential stem cell donors for the Canadian network.

Stem cells are a group of undifferentiated cells present in multicellular organisms – meaning they are capable of carrying out a number of bodily functions. These cells can be derived from a healthy human body and used to treat diseases such as several types of cancers.

The Canadian chapter of One Match is a part of an international stem cell registry network and has over 4,200 registered stem cell donors. It has access to 29 million donors worldwide which enables the Canadian chapter to import stem cells to treat patients in the country. Despite the vast number of donors, finding a match is a daunting challenge. Currently, a total of 800 Canadian patients are awaiting matches.

The major reason donors came forward to donate at the booth was knowing or losing a dear friend to a fatal blood disease.

Sharr Cairns, territory manager for Canadian Blood Services, said, “We are a program that people understand a lot more when they know someone who is in need of our program.”

Lillie Proksch, a second-year communication studies student at Wilfrid Laurier, learned about the program when a friend of hers got leukemia. She has been a registered donor and a volunteer for One Match ever since.

“Donors have to fill out forms to register and we ensure that donors are in good general health. The samples get sent off and in four to six weeks, the registration process will be complete. It’s not a lot to save a life.”

The information booth was run by Sharr along with volunteers from Wilfrid Laurier University from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. At the booth, potential stem cell donors lined up to get swabbed. A buccal swabbing kit containing Q-tips was provided to donors who swabbed the insides of their cheeks to provide samples of their saliva. These were then retained for tests by One Match clinics.

Stem cell donation works very differently when compared to blood donation. For stem cells, proteins or markers termed human leukocyte antigens (HLA) that sit on white blood cells need to be a match in order to donate. Each human being receives half of these markers from their mother and the other half from their father. A minimum of 10 antigen matches are required to qualify as a match for a patient in need.

If a match is found, the donor receives a call from the cell transfer team to schedule a donation. Stem cell donations at One Match are carried out in two ways: either through a process along the lines of kidney dialysis or through a minor back surgery.

Sharr said One Match makes it a point to let every donor know they cannot back out once a match is found as that would be fatal for the patient. Therefore, it is imperative the donors understand what they are signing up for.

Mitch Cooke, a second-year bachelor of science biology student at Wilfrid Laurier, is a registered stem cell donor who has been chosen as a match.

“I am on the waiting list right now – for eight months now. There are so many tests you have to go through; there are blood tests, a physical test … you have to go to the hospital a week before just to make sure everything is OK … But it is such a small inconvenience considering you are saving a life.”

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