Why Diversity Is Essential to the National Bone Marrow Donor Pool

It’s a fact. Minorities have more difficulty finding matching bone marrow or blood stem cell donors because of the lack of participation by minorities to join the donor pool.


For many patients who are suffering from a blood cancer or blood disorder (like leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell disease), a bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant is often the only hope of beating the disease. In 30% of cases, a familial matching donor may be an option. However, for the other 70%, these patients need to find an unrelated match.

When a patient’s doctor starts the search for a matching bone marrow donor, they will generally look at 10 specific human leukocyte antigen (HLA) markers to determine a match. Most require at least a 9 out of 10 match, but a 10 out of 10 is best. The closer the match, the better the chance that the patient’s immune system will recognize the donated cells as its own and allow them to grow and make new healthy blood cells.

What does this mean for people of color and other minorities?

DKMS patient, Mama G, and daughter, singer-songwriter Kina Grannis

When it comes to matching HLA types, a patient’s ethnic background is important in predicting the likelihood of finding a match. This is because HLA markers used in matching are inherited and some ethnic groups have more complex tissue types than others. This means that a person’s best chance of finding a donor may be with someone of the same ethnic background. It is already very hard for patients to find a matching bone marrow donor, and for a patient of color, it is even more difficult due to the lack of diversity on the bone marrow registry.

As it currently stands, ethnic minorities are sadly underrepresented in the national bone marrow donor pool. These groups across the board face challenges in finding their lifesaving matches.

The ethnic breakdown of potential bone marrow donors in the US

What if no match is found?

If no match is found in the global donor pool, that doesn’t mean a match doesn’t exist - it means that the person who could be a match is just not registered yet. A perfect match could still be out there. For this reason, many families choose to partner with DKMS to host donor registration drive in hopes of finding their second chance.

What can I do to help?

Spread the word!

DKMS is an international nonprofit dedicated to helping patients find their lifesaving bone marrow donor to treat their blood cancer or blood disorder. The more people who know about the demand for bone marrow donors, the better the chances are for the patients who need them.

Host your own donor registration drive - in-person and/or virtually

DKMS volunteer smiling while sitting at a table with a DKMS tablecloth, DKMS registration packets, giveaways, and signs.

Get your family and friends involved! You can host an in-person donor registration drive in your community, at your place of business or on your college campus. Reach out our donor recruitment team to get more information.

You can also host a virtual registration drive. Your family, friends, and followers can register online and request a free swab kit be sent directly to them. Once they mail it back in with the pre-paid envelop, they are set and just waiting for the call they're a match! You can submit information to get a drive started here.

It’s time to change the odds for these patients and others like them! Register to be a bone marrow donor today!

Register to be a bone marrow donor today!