Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Cord blood banking is a painless and safe way of collecting the blood left in a newborn’s umbilical cord and placenta and storing it for potential future medical use.

Cord blood contains potentially lifesaving cells called stem cells and it is much easier to match transplant patients using cord blood than with other sources such as bone marrow from adult donors. This article looks at why cord blood banking is particularly important for people who are from different ethnic groups.

HLA Type

Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) is used to match patients and donors for bone marrow or cord blood transplants. It is important to get as close a match as possible to your donor’s HLA markers as this will reduce the risk of your immune cells attacking your donor’s cells or even attacking your own body directly after the transplant.

Ethnic Group Percentages

There are differences that exist in the frequency of certain HLA types among different ethnic groups and for this reason, you are far more likely to find a good match with someone coming from the same ethnic background. A good example of the current statistical inequality is highlighted by the fact that African-American patients requiring a transplant have a particularly difficult time locating a suitable donor, representing approximately 14% of the population and there are therefore fewer potential donors available.

HLA Variations

Another valid reason why this ethnic group struggle to locate a suitable donor is that there is generally a much greater variation in HLA types amongst people descended from an African background than in any other group. Some people who are from a combination of both European and African ancestry may actually find that they have fairly unique combinations of HLA types that are not found in either parental population.

Battling Against the Odds

People from an African background are facing a stiff numerical challenge and a battle against the odds to find a suitable donor when compared with someone from a Caucasian background, because there needs to be three times as many volunteer donors from ethnic minority backgrounds in order to successfully find a match as there would be needed for someone needing a transplant who is Caucasian.

Advantage over Bone Marrow

It is vital to increase the number of cord blood donors amongst ethnic minority groups because they have a greater chance of getting treatment using cord blood. It is very hard to find a suitable bone marrow donor match, whereas with cord blood, a partial match is acceptable.

Many Hispanic and Asian patients also have different HLA types compared to people from the Caucasian group and despite the fact that the inventory is continuing to grow, better awareness is needed to help highlight the importance of donating cord blood if you are from an ethnic minority group, so that future generations will hopefully benefit from the advantages of a well stocked cord blood bank that can balance the odds of finding a good match.