Sarah Cannon - February 06, 2020

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 a blood or marrow transplant is different and much more complex than finding a matched donor for a blood transfusion. 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, 77 percent of white patients can find a matched adult donor on the Be The Match Registry®, but that number decreases for minorities; 46 percent for Hispanic or Latino patients, 57 percent for American Indian or Alaska Native patients, 41 percent for Asian or Pacific Islander patients and only 23 percent for African-American or Black patients.

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 more successful transplants. Because of this, more than 86 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.

Be The Match