On Thursday, May 31, a nationwide stem cell donor recruitment drive will take place throughout Israel. The drive is focused specifically on donors from the Iraqi, Yemenite, Georgian, Bukharan, Caucasian, Kurdish and Ethiopian ethnic groups. These ethnic groups are underrepresented in Ezer Mizion’s Registry, and in Registries around the world. This significantly hampers efforts to find compatible stem cell donors for cancer patients from these communities.
Four patients are at the focus of the campaign: Chanit Elbaz (34), a resident of Rechovot of Yemenite extraction, mother of three children, with leukemia; Yosef Karchili (54), of Georgian extraction, a father of two from Holon, with leukemia; Bar Sitton (22), a leukemia patient of Iraqi extraction, Nissim Moshayov (48), of Bukharan extraction, a resident of Petach Tikvah, married and father of two, with lymphoma.
The chances of compatibility increase significantly when the patient and donor share a common genetic background, which is generally the case among people from the patient’s ethnicity. Throughout the generations, various populations of similar ethnic extraction lived in closed communities and in this way, preserved the genetic identity of their members. For this reason, the higher the representation of a particular ethnic group in the Registry, the higher the chances of finding a matching donor for patients from this ethnicity.
Joining the registry and being tested is currently done with a simple cheek swab. Each sample collected is lab tested by scanning and entered into the Registry. The cost of scanning each test-sample is $65. For the current campaign, thousands of volunteers were rallied to work at dozens of registration stations across the country.
Dr. Bracha Zisser, director of Ezer Mizion’s International Bone Marrow Donor Registry: “This is an incomparably important campaign that can potentially save many lives.
“In matching patients with stem cell donors, ethnicity is crucial. We have found that there is a severe lack of awareness among certain ethnic groups about the stem cell donation process. There even are superstitions and fears about it, resulting in a lack of potential donors from these groups in the Registry.
“The outcome is the situation we face, in which patients needing a bone marrow transplant are dying while waiting for a compatible donor to be found.
“I want to emphasize once again that today a stem cell donation is drawn from a vein in the arm, takes no more than four hours, and is similar to a simple blood donation. I call upon everyone who is between the ages of 18 and 50 and in good general health to join Ezer Mizion’s registry.
“I especially call upon members of the Iraqi, Yemenite, Georgian, Bukharan, Caucasian, Kurdish, and Ethiopian communities to come, join the registry, and save someone’s life. Today it is simpler than ever!”