Making Bone Marrow Transplantation Accessible to More Patients

128-likelihood-of-finding-a-matching-adult-unrelated-donorThe Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program at UVA Cancer Center has been designated as a National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)/Be the Match® transplant center. This makes UVA Cancer Center one of just three sites in Virginia with access to the Be the Match Registry®, the world’s largest and most diverse bone marrow donor registry.

Bone marrow and stem cell transplants offer patients potential cures for immune disorders and blood cancers, such as leukemia, multiple myeloma and lymphoma. Treatment involves harvesting healthy cells from the patient (autologous transplant) or from a donor (allogeneic). For the latter, finding the right donor can be a challenge, but is imperative for a successful transplant.

“We are trying to match tissue type as close to the patient as possible so the donated marrow starts working immediately and also to reduce the risk of graft-versus-host disease,” says UVA Cancer Center Director Thomas Loughran Jr., MD. “Ideally, someone in the family is a match; however, only about 25 percent of people will be matched with a related donor.”

The ability to successfully locate a match among nonrelated donors is dependent on the prevalence of a particular tissue type and how many people with that type are donors. With the Be the Match Registry, UVA now has access to 22.5 million potential donors and 601,000 cord blood units on U.S. and global registries.

This broader selection pool may be especially beneficial to minorities because there are fewer donors among them. “There is a large representation of Caucasians; however not as many African Americans and Hispanics, for example, are signed up to be donors,” says Loughran. According to 2013 NMDP/Be the Match fiscal reports, a patient’s likelihood of having an acceptable match among adult donors on the Be the Match Registry is between 76 and 97 percent, depending on the patient’s race and ethnicity (shown in the figure above, reprinted with permission).

To be selected as part of the NMDP/Be the Match network, UVA Cancer Center had to demonstrate expertise in all types of transplant procedures and an advanced skill set among providers and staff caring for those undergoing a transplant, as well as high standards for laboratory efficiency. See all of the criteria required for participation in the NMDP/Be the Match network.

For referring providers uncertain whether bone marrow transplantation is right for their patient, UVA is committed to offering guidance. “Determining whether a patient needs a bone marrow transplant is a very complicated process,” says Loughran. “[UVA specialists] are available for consult, whether through a formal patient evaluation or a phone call. We can go over whether there is an indication for transplant, when the transplant should be done and the best donor source. Open communication among specialists and the referring provider is important.”

Learn more about the Bone Marrow and Stem Cell Transplant Program at UVA Cancer Center.