Stem Cell Donor Drive on Sunday
Prince George, B.C. – UNBC medical program students along with Canadian Blood Services are encouraging Prince George and area residents to register as stem cell donors during a drive at Pine Centre Mall on Sunday.
The UBC Stem Cell Club at UNBC is hosting a stem cell swab event over a six-hour period Sunday in an effort to meet an urgent need for stem cell donors in Canada and around the world. The swab drive runs from 11 am to 5 pm.
BC and Yukon Territory Manager with Canadian Blood Services, Trudi Goels, says “anyone who wants to register (as a donor) needs to be between the ages of 17 and 35, generally in good health, willing to help any patient in the world, have valid provincial health care and be willing to give us a cheek swab.”
“Those go off to our head office where there is data analysis done and they look at what are called HLA markers. HLA is an antigen in your DNA and those markers are what gets loaded into our data base. That data base gets maintained by Canadian Blood Services so when a patient is in need of a stem cell transplant the same markers from their DNA are uploaded to our data base. They go looking for somebody, a total stranger, who shares the same DNA as you who could potentially donate their stem cells to help save a life.”
Goels says there are over 80 diseases that can be cured by a stem cell transplant. “The most common ones that we hear about, that patients come forward with, are usually things like aplastic anemia, some acute types of leukemia which tend to be very rapid, progressive types of leukemia that cannot be treated by chemotherapy and radiation.” She says there are many uses for stem cells but “those are probably the two most common ones that people recognize.”
The Territory Manager says in the event a donor is the perfect match for a transplant “Canadian Blood Services would contact that individual to let them know that they have matched to a patient who is in need. And our hope is that that person who registered still wants to be a donor and help that patient because they likely are the only person in the world who is eligible to help that patient.”
“At that point they would be asked to do some blood tests to make sure they’re really the best possible donor and that they are healthy enough to be able to have a safe donation. And then they work really closely with a physician to determine the type of transplant process that they’re going to go through, the donation process, and get prepared for that so that they’re eligible to be able to make their donation.”
Goels says everything is covered under a person’s medical services plan, adding “that’s actually why we ask the people when they register if the have valid health care. Especially when we’re on campuses, it really matters when we’re talking to international students because they may be on travel insurance so they need to actually register in their home country. So we want somebody who has a valid provincial health care plan, it can be from any province, but they just need to have valid provincial health care when they register.”
Sunday’s swab drive here points to the need for stem cell donors. “It actually is an urgent need,” says Goels “as there’s always very close to 800 patients in Canada at any given time who are looking for a stem cell donor. About 25% of patients when they’re diagnosed with something that can be cured will find someone in their family who can actually make the donation.”
“But 75%, like three-quarters of all those patients actually need a total stranger who has already come and registered somewhere to be on that data base so that we can find them when they need the transplant.”
“So it really is the ability for us to keep growing that registry every single day, make it bigger and more diverse so that we have eligible donors there when patients need them instead of patients having to look for them or going to the media to make a plea for a donor.”
Goels says Canadian blood services has drives going on “all year long across the province and across the country, and this is not the first one in Prince George this year. The student group that we’ve been working with has had two previous drives on campus at UNBC, so some of the students there have been able to come out.
“But they wanted to bring this more into the community to get a bigger cross-section of people. Students who are in Grade 12 who are already aged 17 may be interested in coming to register. People from across the north who may be there for a hockey tournament this weekend, maybe come into town to do a little shopping and will be at the mall, it’s a great opportunity. All it takes is 10 minutes to stop and do this, make that registration and be there in case you can help a patient somewhere in the future.”
Again, the Stem Cell Swab Event runs 11 am to 5 pm Sunday at Pine Centre.