People tend to have a negative association with donating their stem cells and this is because they’re unaware of the actual process and fear what it entails. In fact, Canadian Blood Services states that stem cell donation methods are most often painless procedures for the donor.
New to the university, the Brock Stem Cell Club aims to educate students about what stem cells actually are, what impact they can have and the process of donating stem cells.
Caitlin Muhl, a fourth year Medical Sciences student and the Co-President of the club, encourages students not to be afraid of the unknown and come to the Stem Cell Drive that’s occurring March 22 from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in the Skybar Lounge. This will give students the chance to learn about the process of donating stem cells and to register as a donor through a simple cheek swab.
“While donating stem cells is commonly a similar process to donating blood, that’s not what we’ll be doing at the drive,” explained Muhl. “What is actually going to be happening the day of the drive is that we’ll be collecting ‘unique blood codes’ from people that fill out the consent forms by simply swabbing areas of the mouth in order to extract their stem cell data into a collective Canadian database.”
The database that Muhl speaks of is OneMatch, which is run through the Canadian Blood Services organization. Once a person’s unique stem cell data is collected, it is placed into the database and is shared with other databases from around the world.
After your ‘unique blood code’ is collected, Muhl says that “you may never get a call but you may if you get matched to somebody [around] the world” which then gives people the option to help that person medically.
“If somebody happens to get a match, at that point that person has no obligation to donate,” said Muhl. “But if somebody does choose to donate, they would be able to save a life.”
Muhl explained that stem cells are “precursors to different types of blood cells” and due to people often having different markers on their stem cells than their family members, it can be extremely hard to find matches for people in difficult medical circumstances.
“Three out of four, or 75 per cent, of stem cell matches are not within immediate family members,” said Muhl. “Family members may have the same blood type, but not the same stem cell markers. That’s why it’s important to have these databases around the world because somebody from another country may be a direct match.”
Muhl explained that people who need stem cell donations are those with different types of blood related diseases such as leukemia.
For the day of the drive, Muhl says that the club and its partners are looking for people from different ethnic backgrounds, since this increases the chances of matching with people from around the world, as well as they’re looking for more male than female donors.
“We’re hoping to have 70 per cent male donors because research shows that females have a higher rate of failure as donors,” said Muhl. “That is not to say that we don’t welcome females, everybody is welcome.”
Although everyone is encouraged to participate, the Stem Cell Drive will have particular guidelines for potential donors such as being between the ages of 17 to 35 and being a generally healthy person.
The event itself will feature stations such as pre-screening, filling out legal forms and being informed about consent in relation to becoming a stem cell donor.
“If people are uninformed, they have a higher chance of saying ‘no I don’t want to do this,’” said Muhl. “But it’s actually so easy and the process will be short. The thing is that students won’t have to decide now to actually be a donor, and they may never have to decide if they’re not matched. But ultimately, if you come and get swabbed, you could be that somebody that saves a person’s life.”