Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a life-threatening blood cancer or blood disease, such as leukemia, lymphoma or sickle cell disease.
For those thousands, a cure exists, though about 70% of patients don’t find it within their own families.
That’s why the College of the Canyons Biology Club is partnering with Be The Match to host a drive-in community registry event, where the community is invited to register to be a potential match for someone in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant through a simple swab test.
“The science of stem cells is incredible, and it can actually cure over 70 different life-threatening diseases,” said Christine Mantilla, member engagement, enrollment and experience at Be The Match. “A small population of stem cells from a donor can regenerate an entire body’s worth of bone marrow.”
Biology Club President Brian Estarella-Murphy has been on the registry for two years, eagerly awaiting the day he’s a match.
For Estarella-Murphy, it’s personal, as he has had two close friends with blood disorders and has seen firsthand the struggle of some of these patients.
“I interned and shadowed at a hospital and a clinic,” he added. “I’ve seen many patients come in that are on their last chance of life, and I’d love to be able to give someone that possibility of living their full life without having to worry.”
Being involved with the organization has actually changed his career aspirations, motivating him to go into the research side of medicine.
“I’m a cellular biology major, and the type of research that they do on these swab tests are exactly what I want to do in the future,” he added. “I want to pick apart these cells to see how I can help advance medicine (to create) life-saving treatment.”
So upon taking up presidency of the club, Estarella-Murphy knew the first thing he wanted to do was partner with Be The Match.
Not only has the current health crisis been an extremely difficult time for those in need of transplants, as they are immunocompromised, but without community registry events, less have been joining.
“This is an action that people can take in 10 minutes for free that can directly save someone’s life,” Mantilla said.
Those interested in being a possible match, can drive up to the event from the safety of their car, where volunteers assist them in registering and administering the 10-second swab test on the inner cheeks while following all health and safety measures.
“We’re just doing a quick, little swab, and then we send your data out, and we do some research to see if you’re possibly even a match,” Estarella-Murphy said. “Our goal out of this event is to sign up as many individuals as possible, so that through further research, we can then match them to patients awaiting dire transfusions.”
Only about 1-in-430 U.S. registry members go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells to a patient.
“That’s 0.2% and just emphasizes the need for as many people as possible to be available on the registry because it is so challenging to find that match,” Mantilla said, adding that not everyone has an equal chance at finding a match, as ethnic heritage plays a significant role. “Right now, the registry is overwhelmingly white. It’s a health disparity that is pretty serious as far as equity of access to treatment.”
The most common way to harvest stem cells is through a peripheral blood stem cell donation, involving a specialized blood draw, where stem cells are processed from your blood before the blood is returned to the donor.
“Your stem cells are a renewable resource, so the donor’s stem cells actually regenerate in about four to six weeks,” Mantilla added.
The event is scheduled 2-6 p.m. Aug. 14 at Real Life Church, located at 23841 Newhall Ranch Road in Valencia. For more information, visit biologyclubcoc.org/bethematch. To join the registry, visit join.bethematch.org/COCBio or text “COCBio” to 61474.