Stem Cell Club

South Asians Save Lives

South Asian donors are needed.

Many patients with blood diseases require a stem cell transplant as part of their treatment, and many do not have a fully matched donor in their family. Patients are more likely to find a match from within their own ethnic group, but South Asian donors are underrepresented on the Global stem cell registry.

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South Asian patients face global disparity in access to stem cell donors.

There is a need for South Asian (especially young adult) individuals to join the stem cell registry.

1 WMDA. (2020). WMDA Global Trends Report 2020. https://wmda.info/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/GTR-2020-Summary-slides.pdf.
2 Gragert L. et al. (2014). "HLA match likelihoods for hematopoietic stem-cell grafts in the US registry." New England Journal of Medicine, 371(4), 339-348.


Meet Balreen

Balreen's aunt was diagnosed with leukemia in October 2013. Her aunt's ethnic background is JATT Sikh Punjabi, and she wasn't able to find a matching donor within Canada. She received her first bone marrow transplant in June 2014 from an unrelated donor in Germany. Unfortunately, she relapsed 14 months later and was lucky to have a second transplant in December 2015 from the same donor. She is now well and healthy. Balreen has helped organize multiple stem cell drives - first in her high school and later with the Stem Cell Club - in honour of her aunt and others who need a transplant from an unrelated donor.

Message to the Community

"When my aunt was diagnosed about 4 years ago, it was really hard on our family, because we didn't know what to do or how to get involved. It was not something we were well informed of. Especially in our community back home in Brampton, there's not a lot of people that have these illnesses and diseases. So after finding out that she had leukemia, we were inclined to help everyone and try to get the message across to our community, which is predominantly Asian and South Asian. People don't understand that we actually need a diverse group of people because anyone in the world can be affected by this. So it's trying to get more people to come out and decrease the stigma of the whole idea and the process. Once people start learning and engaging in it, they'll be interested in helping. It's not a huge procedure - most of the time the donation procedure is very minimal. The main focus is trying to get more people aware of it."

"You might be the one in a million perfect match that our patients are looking for."

To read more stories, visit Why We Swab on the social media pages linked below.



What is stem cell donation?

Watch this whiteboard video to learn more about blood stem cell donation, how it helps patients in need, how the matching process works, and what donation looks like.

How are stem cells donated?

There are 2 ways in which stem cells can be donated:

  1. Blood - 90% of the time stem cells are obtained from a simple procedure that is similar to giving blood. A growth factor is used to increase stem cell count in blood, which is then collected in a procedure taking around 4-6 hours.
  2. Bone marrow - stem cell donation from bone marrow is necessary less than 10% of the time. The procedure is performed under anesthesia and donors who have undergone bone marrow donation report the feeling post-donation to be similar to falling on ice.

If matched with a patient, a physician will decide which method is best suited under the circumstances at hand. See the images below for details on how each procedure is performed.



What now?

Register to be a stem cell donor today at https://www.blood.ca/en/stemcells



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