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School of Arts and Sciences senior starts series of bone marrow donor registration drives at U.

To register with the Gift of Life, a bone marrow donor registry, a donor's cheeks are swabbed, and samples are sent to laboratories to undergo tissue typing. – Photo by / Unsplash

An undergraduate student at Rutgers will be conducting multiple registration drives for bone marrow donors across campus during the coming year. 

Sarah Allen, a senior in the School of Arts and Sciences, said that bone marrow drives are held for the Gift of Life Registry, with whom she currently has an internship.

She said that she became involved with the organization after seeing a Facebook post about the position while looking for ways to expand upon her experience as a pre-med student and has now opened a chapter at the University.

“The only ‘Gift of Life' I'd ever heard of was the organ donation (nonprofit),” she said. “I applied for the position before even knowing exactly what it was, and then, I went back and read through all of it and was like, ‘Oh, this is cool.’”

Registration events include tabling at fairs and other outdoor events as well as presentations to specific organizations, Allen said.

During registration, a donor’s cheek will be swabbed, and the sample will then undergo tissue typing, according to the Gift of Life's website. Data about donors are used across the world as a way to treat patients suffering from blood cancers and other conditions which may not be treatable through other methods.

Allen said that she would be conducting a few presentations for greek organizations on campus in the coming week. She was able to establish contacts with these organizations during the annual Involvement Fair, but only some have responded.

“Sometimes it's hard to get in contact with them, or they don't answer, but we're definitely grateful for the ones that do,” Allen said.

In regard to long-term plans, she said that she is planning a large tabling drive in the spring with the hopes of having tables on every Rutgers campus. Allen also said that she wants to work with multicultural organizations to address the health inequity in bone marrow registries.

Specifically, bone marrow matches are based on genetic profiles, leading to a lower rate of matches for people of color, she said.

“White patients have a 98 percent chance of finding a match,” she said. “Hispanic (and) Latino patients have a 45 percent chance of finding a match. Asian and Pacific Islander patients have a 40 percent chance of finding a match, and then, Black patients or mixed-race patients have a 25 percent chance of finding a match. It's a crazy disparity that if we get more multicultural organizations involved, could really help.”

Three-fourths of Black blood cancer patients will not find a match and as a result, could die, and this is also the case for more than half of the Hispanic and Latino population with blood cancer, according to a resource from the Gift of Life Registry. These differences in survival rates are due to the lack of diversity in the bone marrow donor pool, according to the infographic.

Allen said that Rutgers’ diversity creates the opportunity to increase the chances of patients finding suitable donors as well as to raise awareness of bone marrow and blood cancers, which is another one of her goals.

“We just want to get as many people on the registry as we can and just raise awareness of what we're doing,” she said. “I think it's super important, and a lot of people just don't really know about it, so it's a super easy way to help someone else.”

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