Neurobiology sophomore Amber Garza registers to becomes a blood or bone marrow donor withThe Delete Blood Cancer DKMS Longhorn chapter. Students can become donors by simply swabbing the insides of their cheeks for genetic information.
Those who suffer from leukemia, lymphoma or multiple myeloma can be treated when matched with a suitable donor, and all the information needed to save a life can be found on a single cotton swab — something UT students had in mind when swabbing hundreds of cheeks Wednesday.
Students from the Longhorn chapter of Delete Blood Cancer DKMS registered students for a national database, with the goal of matching cancer patients with a donor that could give them a blood or bone marrow transplant.
Katherine Kuntz, management senior and co-founder of the chapter, said she chose to advocate DNA registration because she has been personally impacted by a donation.
“I got involved because my mom was diagnosed with cancer in March 2012 — acute myloid leukemia,” Kuntz said. “They basically told her, ‘You have to have a donor in order to survive.’ Luckily she had a perfect match. She’s been 1 year and 3 months cancer-free.”
Amy Roseman, recruitment coordinator for Delete Blood Cancer, said only four out of 10 patients suffering from a blood-related cancer find a donor. Roseman said the process of finding a donor is difficult because the immune system often rejects the genetic signature of donated tissue.
“There are thousands of different combinations of DNA,” Roseman said. “Only 30 percent of patients even find a match within their family, so the odds of finding a match with a complete stranger are astronomically small — only 1 percent of people who register are identified to be a donor. We’re trying to add as many people to the database as possible to in order to have the best chance at saving lives.”
Kuntz said there is a lot of misinformation about the process of marrow donation.
“[Most people] think [doctors are] going to take a chunk, and you’re going to be awake, and it will be painful,” Kuntz said. “They just think all of these crazy things that are not true.”
Roseman said actual bone marrow transplants are not the norm — only patients under 3 years old need them, and in these cases the donor is sedated during the surgery. Roseman said what 75-80 percent of patients actually need is stem cells, and most of the time these can be extracted from the blood stream.
Roseman said it takes three minutes to swab the inside of the cheeks for genetic information.
“People don’t realize how easy it is,” Roseman said. “Giving somebody a second chance at life is a very unique opportunity.”
Jeffrey Stulmaker, government junior and co-founder of the club, said blood cancer should be easily addressed.
“It’s the only form of cancer where you depend on someone else to survive,” Stulmaker said.