Friday, September 13, 2013

For blood cancer patients battling to live, mixed ethnicity can be dangerous, complicating the crucial search to find a lifesaving bone marrow match

It's a growing problem within the melting pot of New York, where desperate families are fighting back for their loved ones by enlisting anyone and everyone to enroll in bone marrow registries. Take little Leni Hsiao, a 4-month-old girl who has endured incredible challenges since her birth. The Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, baby has megakaryoblastic leukemia, a rare form of bone marrow cancer. As a result, Leni has endured spinal taps, biopsies, 28 days of chemotherapy and septic shock. Right now, she's on a ventilator at New York Presbyterian Hospital, sedated while her lungs repair themselves. "It's just when you think she can't fight anymore that she comes out even stronger," her mom, Amanda Hsiao, said. "She's just 4 months old, and she's my inspiration every day." Leni desperately needs compatible bone marrow. It's possible that her big sister, Mae, 2, can be a donor. The siblings have a 25% chance of matching up since they have the same parents. But if that doesn't work, the Hsiaos will have to turn to the national bone marrow registry, where the chances of finding a match are slim because Amanda's family is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and her husband Jerry Hsiao's family is from Taiwan. Within the national registry, only 4% of the millions of donors self-identify as mixed-race. Finding a donor is much more difficult for minorities overall, in fact. When whites search through the 10.5 million donors on the registry, they have a 93% chance of finding a good match. Asian or Pacific Islanders have a 73% chance of finding a match. Black patients, whose genetic diversity has increased since they’ve mixed with whites, Native Americans, and Latinos, have only a 66% chance of being matched.

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