Armenian patients as well as individuals from other small ethnic groups, have a particularly difficult time locating suitable donors given our unique genetic (HLA) profile. The National Marrow Donor Program (U.S.) has over 5.5 million potential volunteer marrow and blood cell donors but few of them are of Armenian ancestry. Hence many Armenian patients do not find a matching donor. In addition, statistics indicate that only 30% of all patients find a suitable marrow donor within their own families. Accordingly, the Armenian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) was established in 1999 to address the unique needs of our Armenian community worldwide. The ABMDR is an independent, non-governmental , not-for-profit organization that currently has 10,100 registered donors and 575 Armenian patients who are waiting for a match. For these waiting patients the search for a matching donor is a race against time.
AAHPO member, Debra Ferman, M.D., says, “The need for a large donor network is crucial if Armenians are to survive blood related diseases like leukemia and lymphoma.” AAHPO member Terenig Terjanian, M.D., comments “The more Armenians who sign up for the blood screening, the greater the chance that our Armenian community members will receive a lifesaving match.” “The gift of life that a donor gives is simply amazing and so precious,” adds AAHPO President, Lawrence V. Najarian, M.D.
Signing up for the screening is the first step to becoming a donor. A small blood sample is taken at the screening and it is then sent for HLA tissue typing analysis. The results are then entered into a data registry where a computer searches for a compatible, recipient/donor match. If there is a compatible match the donor stem cells are obtained by either a blood filtering technique called apheresis or by bone marrow aspiration from the hip area. Sometimes umbilical cord stem cells are used also. The donor stem cells are then transplanted to the recipient where they grow and multiply, replacing the cancerous cells and bringing new life to the recipient.