More Chi­nese join Canada’s stem-cell reg­istry to do­nate

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By PAUL WELITZKIN in New York paulwelitzkin@chi­nadai­lyusa. com

Mai Duong is a 34-year-old Mon­treal res­i­dent and a leukemia pa­tient in des­per­ate need of a stem-cell trans­plant. Duong, who is Viet­namese and the mother of a 4-year-old girl, Alice, cre­ated a video in which she pleaded for a donor and put it on so­cial me­dia in Canada.

In many cases, Duong and other Asians, in­clud­ing Chi­nese, who suf­fer from leukemia and other blood dis­eases, find it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to have a life-sav­ing stem-cell trans­plant be­cause of a crit­i­cal short­age of donors of Asian de­scent.

Rec­og­niz­ing that pa­tients from the Chi­nese com­mu­nity were far less likely to re­ceive such a trans­plant due to the lack of match­ing donors, in 2008 Toronto res­i­dent Su­san Go, who is of Chi­nese de­scent, founded the Other Half – Chi­nese Stem Cell Ini­tia­tive.

“Her goal was to raise aware­ness in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity of this life-sav­ing med­i­cal tech­nique,” said Jodi Cheng, devel­op­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for the Go’s ini­tia­tive.


goal was to raise aware­ness in the Chi­nese com­mu­nity of this life-sav­ing med­i­cal tech­nique.” JODI CHENG DEVEL­OP­MENT AND COM­MU­NI­CA­TIONS MAN­AGER FOR THE GO’S INI­TIA­TIVE

“She knew the Chi­nese com­mu­nity was un­der­rep­re­sented in the Cana­dian reg­istry and was de­ter­mined to change this.”

A stem cell trans­plant — also called a blood or mar­row trans­plant — is the in­jec­tion of healthy stem cells into a body to re­place dam­aged or dis­eased stem cells. Donor and re­cip­i­ent stem cells must be a close match for a suc­cess­ful trans­plant, which means pa­tients are more likely to find a match within their own eth­nic back­ground.

“Only about 25 to 30 per­cent of those in need of a trans­plant find a suc­cess­ful match from their own fam­ily mem­bers. Seventy to 75 per­cent must search for a match among the pub­lic,” said Dr Eric Chen, a med­i­cal on­col­o­gist with the Princess Mar­garet Can­cer Cen­tre in Toronto.

Many Chi­nese are re­luc­tant to be tested and be­come reg­is­tered donors.

“Part of it re­lates to our cul­ture,” said Cheng. “It’s not in our na­ture to dis­cuss bad things and in many cases, it is con­sid­ered shame­ful to men­tion it to oth­ers. We need to re­al­ize that can­cer can hap­pen to any­one,” she added.

“There are mul­ti­ple rea­sons for a lack of Chi­nese donors. In tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­ture, blood is con­sid­ered a vi­tal life source and los­ing even a small amount is seen by many as bad for their health. And that means blood do­na­tions are not en­cour­aged,” noted Chen.

The process to de­ter­mine if some­one is a po­ten­tial donor is not com­pli­cated, ac­cord­ing to Cheng. “We be­gin by tak­ing some cells from the walls of your mouth us­ing a cot­ton swab. That in­for­ma­tion is then sent to a lab for what is called ge­netic typ­ing.”

A donor’s stem cells must have sim­i­lar ge­netic mark­ers as the re­cip­i­ent. These mark­ers are called hu­man leuko­cyte anti­gens or HLAs.

“The closer the match, the less likely the body will re­ject the trans­planted cells,” said Chen.

Cheng said the Other Half — Chi­nese Stem Cell Ini­tia­tive is mak­ing progress in get­ting more Chi­nese donors.

“Back in 2008, the num­ber of Chi­nese donors in the Cana­dian reg­istry (One­Match Stem Cell and Mar­row Net­work) was about 2,100 or less than1 per­cent of reg­is­trants. By June of this year, the num­ber of Chi­nese donors was over 25,000, rep­re­sent­ing about 7 per­cent of Cana­dian reg­is­trants,” she said. The Cana­dian reg­istry in­cludes Asians and all other eth­nic groups.

Stem cell trans­plants have been around since the 1960s. Chen said the suc­cess rate for trans­plants is good and that the ma­jor­ity of pa­tients will be cured. “I think once mem­bers of the Chi­nese com­mu­nity be­come aware of this and also re­al­ize that the pro­ce­dure of col­lect­ing stem cells is pain­less, we will get more donors.”

As of July 31, Mai Duong was still wait­ing for a suit­able donor.

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