DKMS hosted a media event on Wednesday to raise awareness of how the lack of diversity in the global stem cell donor pool has led to ethnic disparities for patients searching for a donor.
May 3, 2023 - Stem cell transplants can be the best or only treatment for patients fighting blood cancers like leukemia as well as approximately 70 other conditions. For patients in need of a transplant, around 70% will have to find a donor outside of their family.
Patients are more likely to match with a donor who shares their ethnic background, but unfortunately, ethnic disparities exist in finding a matching donor. White patients have a 79% chance of finding a match, that number drops to 48% for Hispanic/Latino patients and drops even further to 29% for African American patients.
On Wednesday, DKMS, the world’s largest network of stem cell donor centers, hosted a media event to address this issue. Speakers included: stem cell donor Jasmine DeBerry Thompson; stem cell transplant recipient Kristi Thompson; Dr. Nilay Shah, a transplant physician with Levine Cancer Institute; and Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO of DKMS. All four spoke on the need to grow and diversify the existing pool of available donors.
After losing her childhood best friend to Sickle Cell Anemia because she was unable to find a matching donor, Jasmine registered as a potential donor. A few years later, she got the call that she was a match for a young girl also battling Sickle Cell. Without hesitation, Jasmine agreed to donate and went on to save that girl’s life. Jasmine spoke on the importance of community and how we can all come together to make a difference.
As a transplant physician, Dr. Shah works with patients in need of stem cell transplants every day. Dr. Shah spoke to the fact that for most of the patients he treats, their donors have registered because someone they loved or someone in their community needed a transplant. He encouraged everyone to get registered and assured those interested in registering that donors are healthy before their donation, and that they will be healthy after their donation.
The most impactful way for members of the community to address the disparity that exists is by registering as potential stem cell donors. All it takes to register is a quick cheek swab. Those who are interested in registering can visit dkms.org to request a free swab kit be mailed to their house. When it arrives, they just need to swab their cheeks, and then mail the kit back.
When donors register with DKMS, it could be months – even years - before they are called as a match. But in the case of Kristi’s donor, it was just weeks. In 2018, Kristi was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia, a form of blood cancer, and told she needed a transplant. Luckily, just weeks before, a young woman named Vanessa had registered with DKMS and she agreed to donate her stem cells to Kristi. Her experience as a survivor inspired Kristi to create her own non-profit, Feast for Good, to give back to fellow cancer patients in the Charlotte community.
Every 3 minutes, someone in the United States is diagnosed with blood cancer, worldwide it’s every 27 seconds. Unfortunately, less than 3% of the United States population is already registered as a donor. To address this, DKMS is expanding its operations in the U.S. and across the globe. We are now the largest network of donor centers in the world, and we have already seen the impact of this expansion, recently hitting the milestone of 100,000 second chances at life through stem cell donations.
High-resolution photos of the event and speakers can be found here. Video of the speeches can be provided upon request.
DKMS is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the fight against blood
cancers and other blood-related illnesses by inspiring people around the world to
register as blood stem cell donors. The donor journey begins with a simple swab of the cheek which can be the action that leads to a second chance at life for a patient in need. Additionally, DKMS works closely with patients and their families, from diagnosis to transplant and beyond. Originally founded in Germany in 1991 by Dr. Peter Harf, DKMS has entities in South Africa, Poland, Chile, the United Kingdom, the United States, and India. The U.S. office was started in 2004. Globally, DKMS has registered over 11.5 million people and facilitated over 105,000 transplants. To join the fight against blood cancer or for more information, please go to dkms.org.