Why Ethnicity Matters
Racial and ethnic heritage are very important factors for patients looking for a marrow match. Because Cristina is of Italian descent her match will most likely come from someone who is also of Italian ethnicity.
Marrow matches are different than matching blood. Instead of a blood match, doctors are looking for a DNA match. Specifically, doctors are looking for what they call an HLA (HumanLeukocyte Antigens), HLA are proteins located on the surface of white blood cells and other tissues in the body.
The highest likelihood of finding a match is within the same ethnic group which is why donor drives are often specific to a patient's ethnic background.
But, occasionally there will be a match between different ethnicities which is why we'd like to encourage people to join their registry no matter what their ethnic background.
On the One Match website HLA matching is described this way:
"What do you mean by a "match"?
Donors and patients are matched according to the compatibility of inherited genetic markers called Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA). These antigens are inherited from your parents. Up to 12 antigens are considered important in the matching process."
On the Be The Match Website HLA matching is described this way:
"Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is used to match patients and donors for bone marrow or cord blood transplants (also called BMT). HLA are proteins — or markers — found on most cells in your body. Your immune system uses these markers to recognize which cells belong in your body and which do not.
A close match between your (the patient's) HLA markers and your donor's can reduce the risk that your immune cells will attack your donor's cells or that your donor's immune cells will attack your body after the transplant. "