Student organization brings bone marrow donor awareness to campus
Posted: 04/05/2007
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Jesse Solis, a freshman nursing student at The University of Texas-Pan American, said he only wanted "to do the right thing" after handing a swab of his inner cheek to a volunteer at a bone marrow drive at the campus March 30.

Solis was one of 145 registrants for the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) who signed up during the daylong event sponsored by the Association for Vegan and Vegetarian Awareness (AVA), a UTPA student organization.

Sunaina Chugani, a graduate student in the MBA program and an AVA member, helped organize the drive after recently meeting Hemant Wadhwani, a board member of, an organization founded in 2004 when Wadhwani's close friend (Pia Awal) needed a life-saving marrow transplant but had difficulty because she was a minority. has since become a certified minority recruitment group for the NMDP seeking to increase the representation of minorities in the national bone marrow registry.

Pictured is Jesse Solis (left), a freshman nursing student, who took a swab of a cheek cell in order to register during a March 30 Bone Marrow Drive at UTPA. Solis was assisted by Cesar Rodriguez (right), a junior math major and member of the Association for Vegan and Vegetarian Awareness, a student organization which sponsored the drive.
"A cancer patient who needs a bone marrow donor has as little as a 1/100,000 chance of finding a life-saving match. The chances are even worse for minorities like Hispanics since they are underrepresented in the registry," Chugani said. "The more awareness we raise about this issue, the better the chances are of finding bone marrow matches for patients in need of donors."

According to the NMDP Web site, marrow and blood stem cell transplants often require matching certain tissue traits of the donor to the patient. Because some of these traits are unique to people of specific ancestry, the most likely donor match is from the patient's same racial or ethnic group. However, only 30 percent of patients in need of a marrow or blood cell transplant find a match donor in their family.

Beginning operations in 1987, the NMDP has facilitated more than 25,000 marrow or blood cell transplants for patients who do not have matching donors in their families. It is part of a database of more than six million donors in 2006. Just under 10 percent of those were identified as Hispanic or Latino donors and 35 percent as the total percentage of all minority donors.

During a weeklong donor recruitment tour of Texas higher education institutions, Wadhwani, managing director of in New Jersey, and fellow national registry volunteer Natesh Parashurama, M.D., a surgical research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, traveled to Edinburg at the invitation of AVA and joined its members at their recruitment table just outside the University Library.

"We are targeting the minority community because they have the higher incidences of diseases like leukemia, lymphoma but the lowest number of donors," Parashurama said while carefully overseeing that each registrant's swab kit was labeled properly.

To register, a person only had to fill out a brief form regarding their age and health and provide four swabs from inside their cheeks to be tested for tissue type. If the donor's tissue is a match, the NMDP contacts the donor to undergo further testing. If a donor is found to be a complete match, the more common procedure now, instead of drawing marrow from within hip or back bones, is to draw blood from the arms and stem cells are used to regenerate marrow. Expenses of the donor are normally covered by the patient's insurance. Wadhwani said the drive at UTPA was very successful, particularly because of the large number of minorities that had registered.

"However, success at the end of the day is finding a match," he said, noting just enabled the 20th successful match of donor and recipient.

Drives such as the one at UTPA serve another purpose Wadhwani explained. This week at the University of Houston, two fraternities were trained in the registration process while two sororities at The University of Texas at Austin were trained during a drive there. At UTPA, he said, AVA students were not only trained but several donors and passersby asked how to take such a drive to their own church or community group.

"A main goal out of this event today is to train people to take it into their own communities," he said, which will further increase the racial and ethnic diversity of the NMDP Registry.

After taking only a few minutes to register to be a donor, Linda Lopez, a senior from Falfurrias majoring in rehabilitation services at UTPA, didn7rsquo;t hesitate a moment before responding to why she chose to stop and participate.

"I know if I needed a donor for a transplant or liver I'd want someone to do this for me," she said.

For more information on the National Marrow Donor Program, contact AVA at or log on to For more information on, log on to