If a blood cancer patient is a good candidate for a blood and marrow transplant, they must be matched with a donor with the same human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type. Finding a matched donor for marrow is different and much more complex than finding a matched blood donor. This is because HLA is a type of protein, or marker, found on most cells in your body. Your immune system uses HLA markers to know which cells belong in your body and which do not.
HLA markers used in matching are inherited. Some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others, so a person's best chance of matching with a donor is usually with someone who is of the same ethnicity.
According to Be the Match, 97 percent of white men and women can find a matched donor, but that number decreases for minorities; 80 percent of Hispanics, 77 percent of American Indians, 72 percent of Asians and only 66 percent of African-Americans can find a matched donor.
In addition to ethnicity, age is also a determining factor for being a donor to a patient who needs a transplant. Medical research has shown that cells from younger donors lead to better long-term survival for patients after the transplant. Because of this, more than 95 percent of donations are made from donors who are between the age of 18 and 44.
Patients and donors can be matched through programs, such as the Be The Match Registry. This registry compiles the list of donors, their cord blood units and HLA types. Donors join by providing a cheek swab that serves as a sample of their DNA. The swab is then sent to the registry and tested for six basic HLA markers.
If you are a member of a racial or ethnic minority or are in the targeted age range for donors, your bone marrow could make the difference of life in a blood cancer patient. If you are interested in joining the Be The Match Registry, you can find more information and register by visiting their website.