Chinese-Canadians respond to stem-cell call

BY PAMELA FAYERMAN, VANCOUVER SUNMARCH 30, 2010
The number of Chinese-Canadians registered as potential stem cell donors has risen 75 per cent after simultaneous one-day events in Vancouver and Toronto this past weekend.

“We made history. It was the largest one-day stem cell drive event we’ve ever had,” said Sue Smith, executive director of the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network.

The drive, held Saturday at Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre, and in Toronto, saw a total of 4,025 people lined up to get the inside of their cheeks swabbed so cells containing DNA could be collected, typed and entered into a national registry.

Stem cell transplants are used to treat — and even cure — those suffering from blood cancers and other disorders involving benign or malignant conditions.

Chinese-Canadians make up only two per cent of the Canadian registry of unrelated stem cell donors while Caucasians make up 82 per cent. That means that it could be almost impossible to find a donor when a Chinese patient needs one since the best chance of finding a match is within a patient’s own ethnic group. First nations, South Asian and Southeast Asians are also poorly represented in the national and international registries.

Smith credited media coverage and volunteers in community groups for the success of the one-day campaign, which boosted the registry of Chinese donors by 75 per cent. In Vancouver, 1,900 individuals were registered during the event and in Toronto, 2,100 people were added. Said Madellina Lau, co-chair of the Vancouver event and mother of a woman who died last year from leukemia (before a stem cell transplant): “It is so heartwarming to see how much our fellow Chinese-Canadians care for Chinese patients searching for stem cell donors.”

Smith said the Vancouver turnout far exceeded expectations. And now the blood service hopes other ethnic community groups will match the success of Chinese organizations. “We’re working on partnerships with other community groups like South Asians for Life, the Health Association of African Canadians, Aboriginal Nurses of Canada, Filipino and many other ethnocultures,” she said.

Dr. Clay Smith, director of the Leukemia/ Bone Marrow Transplant program of British Columbia and chair of the Tumour Group Council of the BC Cancer Agency, said all the efforts are critically important to patients.

“Frankly, there is a need for representation for all ethnic groups other than those who are descended from European background where donor representation is now pretty good.” There are more than 14 million registered adult volunteer donors in [about] 69 donor registries around the world.

pfayerman@vancouversun.com

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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