This month, students at universities across Canada will be holding stem cell drives to find matching donors for patients who need a stem cell transplant in order to save their lives.
The drive is part of a “Why We Swab” campaign run by Stem Cell Club, a donor recruitment organization with university chapters across the country. The organization works to recruit donors to the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry.
Founded by Dr. Warren Fingrut in 2011, Stem Cell Club has since recruited over 17,500 Canadians as donors to date and registers over 5,000 Canadians as stem cell donors each year.
“Stem Cell Club works to recruit Canadians who are willing to be donors if they match to a patient in need,” Fingrut said in a news release. “Donors must be between the ages of 17 and 35 to register, and we especially aim to recruit male and ethnically-diverse individuals as these donors are associated with improved patient outcomes.”
Some patients with blood diseases like leukemia or lymphoma may need a stem cell transplant but most patients do not have a matching donor available within their own family. They then have to turn to strangers to save their lives.
More than 30 drives, held at 18 university campuses in five different provinces, will take place in February.
On the Island, the stem cell drive will take place at the University of Victoria on Feb. 12.
This is Stem Cell Club’s second campaign in one year, with a similar one run in November. It recruited over 850 Canadians as stem cell donors and the club hopes to register even more this time.
“The drives give hope to patients who are actively searching for a match,” Fingrut said.
To register as a donor, individuals need to fill out a questionnaire about their health. Then, they swab their cheek and the swab is sent to a lab to find out if their cells are a possible match for a patient.
Someone who is donating stem cells may take a medication one week prior to increase the number of stem cells in their blood. Then, blood is collected from one arm and run through a machine that collects the stem cells. The remainder of the blood is returned to the same arm. The process takes four to six hours.
A less common donation method is to collect stem cells from bone marrow. This is performed under general anesthetic and takes one day.
The UVic stem cell drive takes place on Feb. 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cadboro Commons.
For more information about Stem Cell Club, visit stemcellclub.ca/index.html.