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ITxM and Be The Match - Partners in Saving Lives                  

Perhaps when you think of saving someone’s life, you imagine pulling a person from a fiery car crash or out of harm’s way. Blood cancers and disorders are like fiery crashes–they create a need for action, for heroic lifesaving intervention. Since 2004, The Institute for Transfusion Medicine (ITxM) and Be The Match, (BTM) have joined forces to help extinguish life-threatening illnesses throughout the world with bone marrow and peripheral blood stem cell collections (PBSC) at LifeSource of Chicago and Central Blood Bank of Pittsburgh.

Like a bucket brigade, teamwork is required to get to the PBSC or bone marrow collection stage. The multi-step process begins with dedicated bone marrow account managers who hold numerous drives and who also work directly with families of patients that need transplantation. Using National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Be The Match materials, they educate and explain how patients can be helped. Anyone between the ages of 18 and 44 may join the registry, provided they meet health guidelines and are dedicated to helping any patient who is a potential match. These precautionary guidelines are in place to ensure both donor and recipient safety. A decision to follow through after registration is critical, as these procedures are often a patient’s last hope for survival. When bone marrow donor Lauren Hale understood that she could save someone’s life, she registered immediately. On an ordinary day about four years after registering, Lauren was contacted about donating for a young boy. She said, “I wasn’t even nervous…just excited to help.” Lauren's donation story

BTM registrants use a buccal swab kit to collect cells in the inner cheek area of the mouth. According to NMDP, human leukocyte antigen (HLA) “is a protein, or marker, found on most cells in the body, which is used by the immune system to know which cells belong in your body and which do not. An adult donor must match at least six of eight HLA markers, (while) many transplant centers require a seven of eight match.” The donor-to-patient match occurs based upon HLA specific markers, which are genetically inherited. And, because only 30 percent of registrants are not of Caucasian ancestry, it is more difficult to find matches for minority or mixed race patients. When Peter Mui, who lost a childhood friend to cancer, found out he was a match, he knew he had to do something. Peter's story

Often, several years pass between registration and donation. When a possible match occurs, donor program specialists step in to re-educate the donor and update the donor profile. Potential donors then learn the age, gender and illness of the patient. ITxM conducts several hundred confirmatory blood test panels yearly for potential donor/patient matches. According to Debbie Vehec, ITxM Special Programs manager, “Transplant centers ask for six to ten potential donors from all over the U.S.” A confirmatory process follows, with thorough HLA matching via NMDP and the requesting transplant center, which then ultimately chooses the best match and the procedure type.

After final health screenings, donors are further counseled about the chosen procedure. To prepare for a PBSC donation, requested about 75 percent of the time, donors receive injections of filgrastim, beginning five days before donation and on the day of donation, to increase the number of new blood-forming cells in the bloodstream.

According to Joan Sevcik, ITxM director of Clinical Services, our state-of-the-art apheresis machines “target hematopoietic cells,” which originate in bone marrow.  She explains that when these immature white blood cells are transplanted into a patient who has undergone chemotherapy, leaving them immunosuppressed, the goal is that the donor’s PBSC “will graft into the patient, allowing them to grow new, healthy blood cells which build up the immune system,” essentially helping to extinguish a blood disease or cancer.

On the day of donation, the continual whirring sound of the apheresis machine fills the room as it uses a centrifuging technique to separate blood components by weight. As the donor’s immature white blood cells are collected, Shannon DeLucca, R.N., overseeing the apheresis procedure, explains that the machine uses a needle to collect PBSC from the donor then returns what is not being collected into the other arm. DeLucca states this cyclical procedure continues, often cycling the blood three or more times until the required amount of stem cells is collected, based on the donor’s sex, height and weight.  

Undaunted by the time required and inability to move for several hours, Gary, a super-donor who has given several gallons of blood, had been on the NMDP registry 20 years when he received a call to donate PBSC. He responded, “Yes! And, what do I need to do? I have been blessed in my life with so much, it only feels natural to want to give back.” His message to potential donors is, “Do it, if you are able to give. This has been a wonderful experience; all my friends and family think it’s the greatest thing…and my hope is that (the PBSC) will prolong (the patient’s) life, and that there will be a quality of life enjoyed, as it was previous to the cancer diagnosis.”

Even with willing and matched donors, collection and transfer of donated PBSC is only made possible with advanced apheresis technology and research from the dedicated ITxM Research Institute team members whose work directly and positively impacts the patients and donors served. The Institute for Transfusion Medicine is proud to support the ongoing development of health professionals who specialize in transfusion medicine and the patients they treat.

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