East Asians Save Lives
East 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 East Asian donors—including Japanese, Korean and Chinese Peoples—are underrepresented on the Canadian stem cell registry.
We asked East Asian People to share the reasons why they signed up as donors. Here is what they said:
@stemcellclub Beggin’ you🙏 @chinesestemcell #stemcells #donation #savelives ♬ original sound - Stem Cell Club
East Asian Peoples face disparities in access to stem cell donors.
What is the ANCESTRAL BREAKDOWN on the Canadian registry? 1
What is the chance and EAST ASIAN patient will MATCH with an UNRELATED DONOR? 2
2 Gragert et al. NEJM 2014.
"Before my dad got leukemia, he was very active and played a lot of sports. He started feeling very fatigued, so he went in for a regular blood checkup, and they found things were abnormal. It was very quick, and we found out he had leukemia. My dad told my brothers and I two days after. It was a very hard experience for my family because no one I was really close with ever had cancer. I didn't even know really what cancer was or how much it affected your family and the person. After undergoing radiation and twelve rounds of chemotherapy, he was told that stem cell transplantation was the only way to save his life. It was a life-changing event for my entire family."
Lauren Sano reflects on her father's diagnosis with a rare form of blood cancer called mixed phenotype acute leukemia. Many patients with leukemia require a stem cell transplantation as part of their treatment. For more information on how stem cell donation works, please visit: https://youtu.be/V4fVBtxnWfM. Pictured Lauren and her father, Mark Sano.
"A 10 out of 10 matched donor is considered the best-case scenario to reduce the risk of rejection and other transplant complications. Unfortunately, a search of global bone marrow registries did not result in any 10 out of 10 matches for my dad. My dad is Japanese, and Japanese people are very underrepresented on stem cell donor registries. You are more likely to be a match if you are from the same ethnic group. I do think we could not find a fully matched donor for my dad because not enough people on the registry are Japanese. The period of not having a match was pretty scary because you just don't know if there will ever be a match. When you have to look at family members that are not going to be a perfect match like a parent or a child] it's either this or nothing. So then, the doctors tested my brother and I. I was deemed to be a half-match, and sufficient to be his donor. It was a big relief, and we were really happy that I was able to donate stem cells to my dad. It was a very special moment for him and I."
Lauren Sano reflects on her father's search for a fully matched donor after his diagnosis with leukemia. Patients from ethnic minorities face an uphill battle trying to find a matched donor for a stem cell transplant, and many, like Lauren's father, cannot find one anywhere in the world. Transplant physicians generally prefer a fully matched donor for their patients where possible. We urge healthy individuals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to reach out to their local registry to become a stem cell donor. Canadians between the ages of 17 and 35 can register online at blood.ca/WhyWeSwab. Pictured Lauren and her father, Mark Sano.
"When I tell my friends, they just don't think that stem cell donation is that simple, or they hear stem cells and think it's a complicated process. One week before my stem cell donation I got a growth factor to increase the number of stem cells in my blood. That was daily, but it was just a small needle, so nothing big. And the donation was like a long blood donation. It was around six hours, and I was attached to an apheresis machine. Blood was drawn out of one arm and ran through the machine. Then the remainder would be put back into my other arm. I had no side effects and it was painless. I had a little bit of muscle fatigue, but those were very temporary and didn't last more than a day or two. It's just like a couple hours, not even the full day, it's so simple!"
"I would definitely do it again for someone else just because of how small of a sacrifice it is from the donor and how much it means to the recipient"
Lauren Sano donated her stem cells to her father, Mark Sano, after he was diagnosed with leukemia. There are two main ways to collect stem cells: from peripheral blood (described above) and from bone marrow (less common). In preparation for peripheral blood stem cell donation, donors are given a growth factor that helps move stem cells from their bone marrow into the bloodstream from where they are collected. To learn more about stem cell donation watch: https://youtu.be/V4fVBtxnWfM
"The day I donated stem cells to my dad was a very special day for me and my family, especially for my mom and my dad. It was everything for them to know that he had a match and a chance to live. My donation strengthened our family bond as a whole, particularly the bond between my dad and I. I wear this necklace he gave me to commemorate the stem cell donation, it's a little diamond necklace. He gave it to me after the transplant and I started crying, it was very emotional for me. It was a token of appreciation and love. I wear it all the time and every day. It's so much more than a necklace. It has so much value to me because every time I wear it I think of my dad and when I donated stem cells to him. There's a lot of memories that come with it. To me, the necklace is a symbol of our strong bond, love for one another, and hope for a brighter future. He always told me he was proud of me and that I will go far in life. Every time I look at the necklace, it reminds me that he is always with me in my heart and to never let his legacy be forgotten."
Lauren reflects on her stem cell donation to her father, Mark Sano. The two shared a very close bond, and she shares the special meaning stem cell donation represents to her. It is with our greatest sympathy that we share that Mark passed away from leukemia complications in 2020. Since, Lauren has become a strong advocate for increasing the representation of ethnic minorities on the donor registry so that patients from ethnic minorities have a higher chance of finding a fully matched donor. She asks for healthy individuals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to reach out to their local registry to become a stem cell donor. Canadians between the ages of 17 and 35 can register online at blood.ca/WhyWeSwab.
"After my dad passed, I knew I needed to do something for sure. I needed to do whatever I could with my story. My story is unique and not a lot of people think that they will be affected by cancer. You think that it will never happen because I never thought this could affect my family or me at all. I'm just a normal student. I go to school like everybody else does.
Cancer is indiscriminate, it can affect anybody at any age. That's what drives me to be an advocate, knowing that there's so much to be done and the more people that are aware of the impact of stem cell donation, the more patients can be saved. There's someone just like you that could need a stem cell transplant. I'm really trying to"
"I think it's especially important for Non-Caucasian people to know that [there is] an underrepresentation of minority groups on the registry. I started volunteering as a recruiter with Stem Cell Club, working to bring light to this issue, and I thought it would be great to reach out to every ethnic group club on my campus and speak at their meetings. We're just trying to get as much awareness to ethnically diverse groups. I didn't really know that was a big issue before my father's diagnosis, so if I don't even know, I'm sure not a lot of people know. We're all in it together."
Lauren Sano reflects on her father's journey with leukemia. Her father was of Japanese descent and was unable to find a fully matched donor. Patients from ethnic minorities face an uphill battle trying to find a matched donor for a stem cell transplant, and many cannot find one anywhere in the world. Lauren has become a strong advocate for increasing the representation of ethnic minorities on the donor registry so that patients from ethnic minorities have a higher chance of finding a fully matched donor. She asks for healthy individuals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to reach out to their local registry to become a stem cell donor. Canadians between the ages of 17 and 35 can register online at blood.ca/WhyWeSwab.
"I didn't even know what stem cells were until my dad needed a stem cell transplant. Looking back, I realize now how truly impactful stem cell donation is. My dad's diagnosis completely changed my perspective. Stem cell transplantation is a curative therapy for so many different diseases. I think it's really important for people to know how simple it is to register. Every single person that registers gives hope to families like mine, who rely on the generosity of stem cell donors to provide the life-saving gift of healthy new cells. The loss versus gain perspective of donating stem cells is so immense. You lose nothing except a day and a bit of blood, but that's it, and you give patients a whole life ahead of them. If you were in the position where you had cancer or your mom or dad had cancer, how amazing would it be for someone across the world to have signed up and been the match. Now they've saved your life or the life of someone close to you."
Lauren Sano reflects on the impact of registering as a stem cell donor. She asks for healthy individuals of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to reach out to their local registry to become a stem cell donor. Canadians between the ages of 17 and 35 can register online at blood.ca/WhyWeSwab.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
Register to be a stem cell donor today at https://www.blood.ca/en/stemcells