Wanted: Underrepresented Bone Marrow


By Kelly Brown

Thirty-six HLS students registered as potential bone marrow donors in the Harkness Commons last Thursday, Nov. 9. The event was part of the Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative, a cross campus-effort to promote minority representation in national bone marrow registries.

Sameer Doshi, a 3L, was among the 12 students who volunteered to recruit donors at HLS. Student organizations including La Alianza, Black Law Students Association, South Asian Law Students Association, Native American Law Students Association, and Asian Pacific American Law Students Association co-sponsored the drive.

“It was very rewarding to get all the different HLS cultural student groups involved in such an important cause, and even more rewarding to see that so many students cared about giving their time and their cheek cells to potentially save a life down the road,” Doshi said.

Students who registered had to provide Q-tip swabs from their mouths. The cells were collected and sent to a laboratory where they were typed and entered into the registry. If an individual is a match for someone who needs a marrow or stem cell transplant, the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) will contact the person and request further testing. If there is a complete match, the donor may then undergo a marrow or stem cell harvest procedure.

Harvard students have designated November as Harvard Bone Marrow Registration Month, and have planned 20 drives at the University’s schools and undergraduate houses.

The HLS initiative received logistical support from Matchpia and the South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters, a New York-based organization which recruits people of South Asian descent to become donors. Both organizations have been designated by the NMDP as recruitment agencies.

“We have had a wonderful response,” said Roop Kaur, who as coordinator of the northeast chapter of SAMAR helped recruit HLS students.

Doctors completed the first successful bone marrow transplant in 1968, and since then, the procedure has been used in the treatment of leukemia, aplastic anemia, and other blood diseases.

According to the NMDP, bone marrow donors may experience bone pain, headaches, and other uncomfortable side effects while donating, but note that these cease once the donation is complete. The organization also says that limited research shows no adverse effects one to five years after donation. SAMAR agrees there has never been lasting consequences from a donor procedure.

“Whatever the small discomfort, what we’re talking about here is saving a life,” said Sachim Jain, a student at both HMS and HBS who co-chairs the Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative. “For many patients, this represents their only chance to live. I can’t stress that enough to potential donors.”

For additional information about bone marrow donation and upcoming recruitment events on campus, contact Jain at shjain@post.harvard.edu or Harvard College student and co-chair Julie Goswami at jgoswami@fas.harvard.edu.

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