Black Patients Battling Blood Cancers, Sickle Cell Disease Struggle To Find Lifesaving Bone Marrow Donors


Black patients battling blood cancers and other blood-related illnesses like sickle cell disease, struggle to find lifesaving bone marrow transplants as black donors continue to be disproportionately represented on national registries.

Although 30 percent of patients find donor matches in family members, 70 percent rely solely on stranger donations. However, black donors make up only six percent of registered donors in the U.S. and seven percent globally.

National African American Bone Marrow Month, which is celebrated in July, aims to bring awareness to the donor deficit. Donors and recipients are matched using genetic markers known as human leukocyte antigens. Since HLA markers help determine how the body’s immune system responds to foreign cells, transplants are more likely to be successful when patients and donors are from the same, or similar, ethnic background.

Statistically, black adults have a 76 percent chance of finding a donor match, compared to a 97 percent chance for whites. In addition, black cancer patients have the highest death rate, and shortest survival rate, of any ethnic group. Multiple studies also found racial disparities in childhood leukemia.

DKMS, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating leukemia, and other blood-related illnesses, has registered more than 8 million bone marrow and blood stem cell donors around the world. In “historically underserved” the communities, the organization works to diversify donor registries through bone marrow donor drives, public forums, and other campaigns to register and educate donors on an issue that “remains clouded in myths and misconception,” says Jaclinn Taney, Chief Development Officer for DKMS, U.S.

“Ethnicity plays a major role in matching donors with patients and due to the lack of representation of minorities on the registry, particularly in the black community, this means patients of minority backgrounds will face much steeper odds in finding their lifesaver,” Taney tells VIBE. “Recognizing this disparity and the impact it has on the communities most in need, DKMS is committed to proactively engage young and diverse lifesavers until the donor pool reflects the makeup of the current US population [African-Americans make up six percent of the national registry, yet are slightly over 12 percent of the U.S. population].”

Besides large-scale registration efforts, DKMS pilots campaigns for children like Darian, an 8-year-old Texas boy battling sickle cell disease.

Since being introduced to Darian and his family through Children’s Health Dallas, DKMS has commissioned a team to find a “lifesaving match” for the boy. Darian previously matched with two possible donors, but they were unable to continue with their donations. The second-grader is one of millions around the globe battling the blood disorder, which affects around 100,000 people in the U.S. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 365 black children is born with sickle cell disease.

Darian was diagnosed with sickle cell disease at 10 days old and has been in and out of the hospital ever since.

See more on his story in the video below.

Tags: bone marrow