The Harvard Cancer Society (HCS) and the Asian-American Brotherhood (AAB) kicked off their two-day Minority Bone Marrow Registration Drive yesterday.
Over 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases each year, but only 20 percent of registered donors are minorities, according to the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP).
Volunteers from both HCS and AAB gathered in the Loker Commons Green Room with representatives from the New England Marrow Donor Program (NEMDP), one of NMDP’s 93 donor centers, where they answered questions from students and encouraged visitors to register as potential donors.
“My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer my freshman year,” said HCS Co-President Emily S. Gerson ’03. “After she was diagnosed it became an important part of my life to be involved with this.”
The drive’s goal is to find more genetic matches for minority patients.
Mutsuko Holiman, an NMDP board member helping to run the drive, said that nearly half of potential minority donors cannot be contacted when they come up as a match with a potential recipient, often due to problems like language barriers.
One of Gerson’s jobs is to dispel fears about the stem cell donation procedure.
“With bone marrow transplants, it sounds like a really invasive procedure” Gerson said.
In fact, stem cells can be extracted from the body either by drawing blood from the arm or inserting needles into the back of the pelvic bone.
The AAB also does its share educating students, according to AAB volunteer Sean S. Cheng ’02.
“Minority bone marrow registrants are much in need,” Cheng said. “It’s in our mission to serve the community.”
It remains to be seen whether this bone marrow drive will be as successful as the one HCS and AAB ran last spring.
Carol Ann Baldwin of the NEMDP said that 107 potential donors were registered last year—of whom only eight were white.
But by the end of the first day of the drive yesterday, only 20 potential donors had been registered. Gerson said she thought more people would register today.
“The first day is usually pretty quiet,” Gerson said.
The drive continues today until 3 p.m.