September 28, 2020

BY KELSEY HEELEY

Bone marrow transplants can cure numerous diseases, but in order to cure, Canadians needs to donate to the cause.

If you have certain cancers such as leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma or other diseases such as aplastic anemia, congenital neutropenia, sickle cell anemia, thalessemia, and severe immunodeficiency syndromes or have had chemotherapy that destroyed your bone marrow, then a doctor may recommend you get a bone marrow transplant.

Bone marrow is the soft, sponge-like material found inside bones. It contains immature cells known as hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells. Hematopoietic stem cells divide to form more blood-forming stem cells, or they mature into one of three types of blood cells: white blood cells, which fight infection; red blood cells, which carry oxygen; and platelets, which help the blood to clot.

According to www.nlm.nih.gov, there are three ways to go through a bone marrow transplant. The first is the autologous bone marrow transplant. Stem cells are removed from you, before you receive high dose chemotherapy or radiation treatments, and stored in a freezer. This is called cryopreservation. After the therapy or treatments are done, your stem cells are put back into your body to add to your normal blood cells. This is referred to as a rescue transplant.

The second kind is called the allogeneic bone marrow transplant. Stem cells are removed from another person, who is referred to as a donor. Donors can be found through national bone marrow registries, however, the donor must be at least a partial match to you genetically. Special blood tests are done to determine whether a donor is a good match for you. An immediate family member is most likely going to be the best match.

The last method is the umbilical cord blood transplant. Stems cells are removed from a newborn’s umbilical cord directly after birth. The cells are stored until they are needed for a transplant. The positive part about using newborns’ stem cells is the cells are so immature that there is less of a need for matching.

Olga Pazukha, communication specialist for OneMatch, said, “There are around 1,000 Canadians at any given time searching for donors to get a bone marrow transplant. There is a diversity of people who are in search of donors to receive this transplant, so we need a diversity of people to donate.”

It isn’t just Canadians who  donate to other Canadians; OneMatch is a member of the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) and is obligated to provide both Canadian transplant centres and international registries with the best possible donor match available. This specific donor is also called an “optimal donor,” Pazukha said.

She said optimal donors are young males between the ages of 17 and 35 and of ethnical diversity. The younger stem cells from male donors routinely offer patients a better post-transplant outcome by reducing post-transplant complications.

A recruitment strategy defined by a focus on young, diverse male donors will allow the network to change the composition of the donor base so that it better reflects the needs of the patient within Canada and around the world.

In 2012, 427 Canadians received stem cells from donors. That is 427 lives saved.

There are about 340,000 Canadian who have volunteered to donate stem cells if needed. However, by joining and agreeing to donate, the volunteer must realize it is a long term commitment. Donors can wait an average of seven years before a match is found.

If a match in Canada cannot be found, OneMatch has access to more than 20.6 million volunteer donors in 50 countries. They also have access to more than 560,000 cord blood units from 46 different banks in 30 countries.

Currently, there are 931 Canadians waiting for stem cell matches.

If you want to donate, register online at www.onematch.ca. After you register, OneMatch will send you a buccal swab kit with instructions and cotton swabs.