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All You Want to Know About Bone Marrow Print E-mail

What is a bone marrow transplant?

A bone marrow transplant is a popular method used to treat cancerous illnesses including leukemia, lymphoma, kidney cancer, etc.

After undergoing a testing process called tissue classification which verifies compatibility, stem cells from healthy bone marrow or peripheral blood are transplanted from the body of the donor into the patient after the patient’s own bone marrow has been destroyed via a special treatment. The transplant of clean stem cells allows the patient to produce new, healthy blood cells and often preempts recovery.

Locating a compatible donor

The bloods of the donor and patient must be totally compatible to allow the transplant to work. The highest chances for patient-donor compatibility exist within the immediate family, however only 30% of patients are actually compatible with family members, while the rest are compelled to rely on other donors to save their lives.

National Bone Marrow Reserve Donor Database

In order to facilitate this process, countries and medical centers throughout the world have established databases of potential donors. The information stored in all these databases, including those in Israel, is centralized in the Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide (BMDW) Database, located in Leiden, Holland. This database is updated on a monthly basis and grants patients accessibility to over 12 million donors on relatively short notice.

A patient in need of a bone marrow transplant submits his details and medical information to the BMDW database. Simultaneously, he can conduct a quick search of all the Israeli databases in order to speed up the process.

Despite the millions of potential donors, nearly 30% of cancer patients do not find a suitable match. In such cases, organizations often spearhead projects to collect as many samples from new donors, placing special emphasis on the population with similar origins to the patient.

Jews and Bone Marrow Compatibility

The tissue classification system that verifies donor-patient compatibility reveals vast genetic differences between Jews and people of other nationalities. Jews, who married each other and lived in isolated communities for centuries, retained a distinct genetic pattern, as opposed to other nations who intermarried more frequently and are thus open to a wider pool of potential donors.

As such, chances of locating a match for a Jewish patient in the BMDW database are quite low, and usually contingent upon the donor being Jewish.

Currently, several bone marrow donor databases, both in Israel and throughout the world, are working cooperatively to establish an international database that will include potential donors of Jewish backgrounds. However, the number of willing bone marrow donors is still sadly insufficient to satisfy the vast need of Jewish cancer patients worldwide.

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