Bone Marrow Initiative

Students from across Harvard University have united in a cross-campus effort to improve minority representation in national bone marrow registries.

Minorities are presently grossly underrepresented in national marrow registries that are used to find donor matches for patients with blood cancers; because minorities are more likely to find matches in their own communities, many minorities die unnecessarily waiting for a match. In response, students have formed the Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative and have designated November, Harvard Bone Marrow Registration Month and are planning 20 drives across Harvard’s campuses in Cambridge, Allston, and Boston throughout the month of November.

“Groups have historically held bone marrow registration drives for individual schools at Harvard, but there has never been such a broad institutional coalition,” says Sachin H. Jain (College ’02, HBS ’07, HMS ’08), founder and co-chair of the initiative. “This is really a numbers game. There are people who need matches and not enough donors. Seventy percent of people don’t match within their families. Working across campuses can build much needed mass awareness of the issue.”

The Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative aims to unite the various ethnic and racial groups at Harvard’s campuses around an issue of common concern. Julie Goswami (College ’08), co-chair of the initiative, has worked to build a broad coalition of undergraduate student groups including the Black Students Association (BSA), Fuerza, the South Asian Association, and the Harvard Foundation. “This is not an issue that narrowly affects one minority group-but affects us all. A coordinated effort is necessary to raise awareness and lastingly grow the national registry.”

The Initiative has successfully drawn together students from Harvard College, Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School, Harvard Law School, the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the School of Public Health who kicked off the. Logistical support for the drives is being provided by SAMAR and Matchpia, two National Marrow Donor Program-designated recruitment agencies.

Becoming a registered donor involves providing a swab of one’s mouth. Cells are collected and sent to a laboratory where they are typed and entered into the registry. If an individual is a match for someone who needs a marrow or stem cell transplant, they are contacted by the National Marrow Donor Program to undergo further testing. If there is a complete match, the donor undergoes a marrow or stem cell harvest procedure. While both procedures involve some initial discomfort, it typically subsides rapidly. According to SAMAR, there has never been a lasting side-effect from a donor procedure.

Harvard Business School’s drive was held on Tuesday, November 14, 2006 and led by Jay Patel (OE), Juan Matienzo La Fourcade (OF), Aaliyah Shafiq (OJ), and Jacob Chacko (ND). The drive successfully registered 43 minorities in the national registry.

“Whatever the small discomfort, what we’re talking about here is saving a life,” says Jain. “For many patients, this represents their only chance to live. I can’t stress that enough to potential donors.”

For Additional Information, contact

Sachin H. Jain (OJ)
Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative, Co-Chair (HMS/HBS)

Julie Goswami
Harvard Bone Marrow Initiative, Co-Chair (Harvard College)

November 20, 2006
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