For patients suffering from bone marrow failure disorders such as aplastic anemia and myelodysplastic syndromes, bone marrow stem cell transplants are a life saving therapy. The only problem is, according to North West Asian weekly, a person in need of such treatment has about a 1 in 50,000 chance of finding a match. Due to a lack of registered donors, Asians in the U.S., along with other minorities, are among those with lowest probability of a successful match.

Here’s the donor breakdown according to National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) data from December 2008:

  • 5.3 million White,
  • 690,000 Latino,
  • 550,000 Black,
  • 520,000 Asian,
  • 210,000 mixed race,
  • 83,000 American Indian,
  • 10,000 Pacific Islander 

Asians and Pacific Islanders make up roughly 7 percent of the 7 million bone marrow donors nationwide.

Dr. John Choe at the University of Washington School of Medicine:

“Successful treatment of leukemia, lymphoma, and other blood disorders depends on finding a donor who has very similar tissue types as the patient — that is, it depends on finding a close ‘match,”

Siblings are the most likely match, with other direct relatives also more likely to be compatible. Though less probable, complete strangers with similar ancestry can also be a life saving match, this is why the NMDP is so important.

Choe and his colleagues have some ideas as to why Asians are so underrepresented on the NMDP:

“Our preliminary research has found that there is much fear about the pain and discomfort about donation … there are also cultural taboos against donation related to Confucian ideas about maintaining the [body’s] sanctity as a way of respecting ancestors,” 

New procedures have virtually eliminated the pain of marrow donation.

Anh Nguyen Reiss,  a 43-year-old Vietnamese immigrant, a mother, and an obstetrician/gynecologist in Houston, was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndromes this year. She requires a matching Vietnamese stem cell donor to survive. 

Huu Nguyen, Reiss’ brother and an attorney in New York, said the following:

“Asian donors are very underrepresented, the percentage is even smaller for Vietnamese donors. None of the 16,000 Vietnamese donors in the national registry matched with Anh.”

Anh Nguyen Reiss:

“Education and awareness in the community is a big problem, especially in immigrant communities, if you are an immigrant working-class mother, how do you have the resources and time to set up a bone marrow drive if one of your family members is in need?”

According to North West Asian Weekly, due to language and cultural barriers, information is difficult to access for Asians in the U.S., specifically in the immigrant communities.

Anh Nguyen Reiss:

“We need more Asian volunteers who speak Asian languages, and have to put out flyers in grocery stores and video stores, not just e-mails.”

Advances in medical procedures have greatly simplified and improved the process of bone marrow stem cell donation, making it  a painless procedure with little or no recovery time required. Now is a great time to join the NMDP and perhaps save a life. 

To learn more check out the NMDP’s web site,







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