Bone marrow transplants: When your heritage leads to a needle-in-haystack search
>Photo: Jake Cooper’s DNA has been described as incredibly rare.
>Leukaemia patient Jake Cooper, 14, is desperately searching for the cure to his cancer, but his hopes of a life-saving fix now rest with strangers, not scientists.
>Jake has chronic myeloid leukaemia and as his condition progresses will need a bone marrow transplant.
>So why, when there are 29 million accessible donors on worldwide bone marrow registries, do so many patients, including Jake, struggle to find a match?
>The answer is ethnicity, where your cultural background can turn your chance of survival into a desperate needle-in-a-haystack search.
>A life-saving search
>Bone marrow transplants, sometimes called stem cell transplants, can be used to treat patients with cancers such as leukaemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
>But first a suitable donor needs to be found — and that in itself can be a months or years-long process, one that usually starts with a patient’s siblings, Red Cross bone marrow donor centre operations manager Paul Berghofer said.
>”There’s a one-in-four chance that [any one] sibling will be a match,” he said.
>While those odds aren’t bad, and obviously improve if you’re from a big family, they don’t always deliver a match.
>Then, the search broadens to the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry and beyond that, to a global registry, but for many patients these offer little hope.
>While donors of north-west European backgrounds are over-represented on the registries, other ethnic groups are desperately under-represented.
>”The chance of finding you a matched donor who is not related to you is best with people of a similar ethnic background,” Mr Berghofer said.
>For Jake, whose dad is Samoan and German, and his mum Australian and British, his “incredibly rare” DNA means, despite monthly checks of the global registry, there is no bone marrow match available to tackle the “monster” in his body.