The initiative, founded this school year, designated this month its Bone Marrow Destination Month and will attempt to recruit bone marrow donors from across the University.
The initiative focuses particularly on people from ethnic minorities since minority patients are less likely to find a match, according to HBMI co-chair Julie Goswami ’08. The effort involves the Harvard Cancer Society, Harvard South Asian Association, Harvard Asian American Association, Asian American Brotherhood, Black Students’ Association, and Fuerza Latina, Goswami said.
The drive is also receiving logistical help from two organizations affiliated with the National Marrow Donor Program: the South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters (SAMAR) and Matchpia, which also targets South Asian Americans.
Goswami added that the Cancer Society contacted House masters and reserved rooms, while members of the other groups will publicize and staff the events.
The first drive will take place in Winthrop House tomorrow during dinner hours, followed by events in Dunster, Currier, Leverett, Eliot, Quincy, Adams, and Dudley Houses over the next week, according to Goswami.
Drives at the other Houses and Annenberg are still being arranged, she added.
Goswami said that the whole process—from the paperwork through the information packet to the cheek swab testing—would take potential donors 20 minutes.
The initiative ran at four of Harvard’s graduate schools the week prior to Thanksgiving and recruited 180 donors, according to HBMI founder Sachin H. Jain ’02, who is now studying at Harvard’s Medical and Business Schools.
“In years past we have tried to combine [the bone marrow drive] with the blood drives. This year we have changed it,” said Natalia Martinez ’08, who is one of the Harvard Cancer Society’s bone marrow project directors.
This year was also the first time that potential donors were screened with cheek swabs rather than blood tests, according to Moazzam Khan, the community outreach director for SAMAR.
Due to this innovation, the process is faster, less daunting, and cheaper, he said.
“It used to be $70, now it is only $52,” he added. “Now everyone can do the drive, once we explain the paperwork.”
But, Jain said, donors will still have to face blood tests if their marrow matches a patient’s marrow type.
Noting that 70 percent of patients needing a bone marrow transplant match outside their family, Jain said, “It’s really easy to save someone’s life.”
Representatives from SAMAR or Matchpia will be present at all the drives to answer patients questions, distribute information, and explain to volunteers that being tested does not commit anybody to donating their bone marrow, according to Goswami.
Although the process is completely anonymous, the patient is notified when a match is found.
“When someone matches and says no, it is the most cruel thing one human being can do to another,” Khan said.
This month’s drive will also focus on educating potential donors.
“They used to call it bone marrow donation. The people used to think they will take away your bone, because of lack of awareness,” Khan said. “We don’t take your bones; you would be crippled if we took away your bones.”