UI prof campaigns for bone marrow donation


UI grad student Kandis Meinders makes cotton candy while working the "Be The Match Registry" desk at Burge Residence Hall on Monday, October 31, 2011. The cotton candy served at the desk is symbolic of the cotton swab cheek tissue sample which is used to determine bone marrow types.
(The Daily Iowan/Ricky Bahner)
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One University of Iowa business faculty member is turning to UI students to save his nephew's life.

And the process takes less than 15 minutes.

Following news three years ago that his nephew's rare blood disease would require him to get a bone-marrow transplant to live, UI Associate Professor John Murry asked his students to start brainstorming a solution.

They decided to start a drive to encourage students to register their tissues to see if they match a patient in need.

This week, Murry's students are partnering with UI student organization Project Marrow to spread awareness and encourage students to register through the "Be The Match Registry."

"I know, having been a professor for 20 years, there's nobody out there with better hearts and ideals than college students," Murry said. "We just need to get the word out."

His nephew, the inspiration for the project, has fought Diamond Blackfan Anemia for 21 years. Now, he is losing his battle because blood transfusions that once saved his life.

"The likelihood of [my nephew finding a match] is not very high, but what happens is friends and relatives of other people like [him] who have become active in doing this are creating a community that will help each other," Murry said. "We hope the combined efforts of other people around the world will end up in a match showing up that will save [his] life."

Murry's nephew's condition prevents his bone marrow from producing red blood cells, so he has required monthly blood transfusions. However, his body now cannot process the excess iron the transfusions have created over many years.

People who sign up to be a part of the registry fill out a short consent form and swab the inside of their mouths to get their tissue sample on file, which is sent to the Be The Match Registry headquarters in Minnesota. That office keeps the records on file until the registrant turns 61.

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics donor-program coordinator Julee Darner said if a UI student is a match, the UI donor center for the Be the Match Registry will contact the student, and he or she will come in for further testing to identify the strength of the match.

"The chances of finding a match are extremely low, which is why it is important for everyone to join the registry," said Chad Schuety, the Project Marrow president. "On average, only 2 percent of people on the registry are ever called up to donate."

Last year, the M.B.A. team was successful in bringing in around 180 students, one of whom has been identified as a donor match for a patient needing a transplant.

Murry said his goal for this year's drive is 500 people, and he hopes to reach a point where several thousand sign up each year at the UI.

Schuety said officials registered nearly 150 people between Monday and Tuesday.

Though many believe the chance of being a match for someone unrelated to them is unlikely, officials said around 70 percent of patients in need of a transplant don't have a matching donor in their family and depend on unrelated donors.

Murry's nephew is one of these patients. And Schuety said a transplant is unlike any other procedure.

"It's not a monthly or even a yearly donation, but a once in a lifetime situation," Schuety said.

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