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The Odds of Finding a Multiracial Match in a Public Cord Blood Bank

America is more diverse than ever before, but many multiracial Americans face an increasing medical challenge: finding a stem cell match in a public cord blood bank.

In 2021, Be The Match Registry® reported the likelihood of finding a cord blood match for diverse ethnic backgrounds ranged from 29% to 79%. 

A table the reflects the percentage of the odds of finding a match based on ethnic backgrounds.

What Do Cord Blood Stem Cell Transplants Treat?

Cord blood hematopoietic stem cell (HSE) transplants are FDA-approved to treat patients with more than 80 diseases, including:

  • Sickle cell disease
  • Severe aplastic anemia
  • Cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma
  • Blood and immune disorders
  • Certain inherited metabolic disorder
  • And many more

The Process of Finding a Match in a Public Bank

Public cord blood banks work by collecting umbilical cord blood from donors. The donated cord blood is tested, cryogenically frozen, and preserved at a public cord blood bank for future use. 

Be The Match Registry is a national registry that lists available cord blood units for patients to search. However, public cord blood banks (21 actively operating1) are not required to share their databases with others. This creates a tedious and often time consuming task when trying to find a match.

Donor/recipient compatibility is determined by their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) types. An individual’s unique HLA type is a collection of the individual’s maternal and paternal HLA genes.2 

Why Are HLA Markers Important for a Transplant? HLA is a protein, or marker, found in many cells of the body. The immune system uses these HLA markers to know which cells belong in the body. This is why a correct match is critical to the success of a stem cell transplant.

For those with mixed ethnicities the process of finding their needed match in a public bank often proves challenging and unsuccessful.

Risks of a Non-Compatible Transfer from a Public Donor

Transplant complications can occur when a donor and recipient’s HLA markers do not closely match. Cord blood stem cell transplants do not have to be a perfect match, but should match close enough that the body does not reject the cells.

What does close or partial match mean? There are 6 HLA markers that are important for stem cell transplants, Bone marrow transplants require all 6 to 100% match between a donor and recipient. Cord blood stem cell transplants are just as effective with only 4 out of 6 markers identically matched.

Patients whose body’s reject the stem cell transplant are susceptible to graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which occurs when the recipient’s immune system does not recognize the HLA markers and works to expel them from the body. GVHD can be mild, moderate, severe, or in some cases, life-threatening.

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Planning Ahead? Family Cord Blood Banking

For multiracial families, making the choice to preserve their baby’s stem cells in a family cord blood bank may offer peace of mind for their family now and in the future. They will have exclusive access to their baby’s stem cells and can use them for treatments for their child or family members.

Real world example: A multiracial child with sickle-cell anemia has a higher likelihood of benefiting from their own or sibling’s preserved cord blood vs finding a match in a public bank. Their genetic backgrounds likely have a  similar make-up and likely have a significantly lower risk of rejection.

For ethnically diverse families with a history of cancer and disorders involving blood, immune, and metabolic systems, private stem cell banking may be the key to securing a healthy future for the entire family.

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