Are mixed race individuals disadvantaged healthwise?
Sophia Trujillo (pictured) is a 6-year-old mixed race girl from Crystal Lake who needs a life-saving bone marrow transplant. She has spent months hoping to get a donor of similar multicultural heritage - she is half Filipino, and half combo of Irish, Spanish and Italian. Luckily, Sophia has been accepted into a groundbreaking clinical trial. And the doctors at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Maryland are optimistic about her chances of survival.
Apparently, there is a shortage of minority and mixed race donors. "As the population diversifies, it's becoming more difficult to find bone marrow matches. On the national donor registry, 61 percent of donors are white and only 4 percent are mixed race."
According to doctors...
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Marrow and cord blood contain certain genetic markers that are inherited, and combinations of those markers are more common in some racial groups than others. So, while not a guarantee, a donation from someone with similar racial heritage presents the best possible chance for transplant success...
Child says: "We need more donors that have mixed racial backgrounds. But the diversity of tissue antigens in those populations is huge. Even if the (registry) were to grow, if you were double it, you're not going to make much impact."
When Sophia was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a rare disorder that impairs her immunity in July 2014, her mother Michelle Trujillo began coordinating donor drives across the country, putting passionate pleas on social media for mixed-race donors to be tested. And despite people coming forward to get tested, Sophia hasn't found a match yet
According to Dr. Rick Childs, clinical director for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, what the doctors conducting the trial are hoping is that they will be able to create a match for her by mixing her mother's stem cells with donor cells in order to cure her aplastic anemia.
The stem cells of Sophia's mom, Michelle Trujillo were removed last week and Sophia is set to begin chemotherapy in mid-January, to get her body ready for the transplant which will be done 10 days after the chemo.
"This protocol is really reserved for the patients that have the worst prognosis," said Childs. "We're trying to cure her with an experimental transplant that is tailored for patients like her."
The procedure is called Allogenic Stem Cell Transplant - which combines the umbilical cord blood and half-matched related stem cells. And the advantage is that in the event that one type of cells is rejected by a patient's body, an entirely different stem cell source may be able to step in. It also has a faster recovery time.
One needs to be referred by their doctor to be accepted after satisfying some medical criteria. The procedure costs about $500,000 which is footed by the National Institutes of Health, that runs the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Most of Child's patients have been of mixed-race heritage.
Since the trial began in 2009, 25 patients have been treated, and 23 have survived. The findings should be published in a medical journal in three to five months. At least there is a ray of hope for this mixed race predicament. All the best Sophia.
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