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Match4Lara - How Social Media is Aiding the Search for Stem Cell Donors

Across the planet, millions of people give blood every year. It's remarkably easy to do in most of the western world, with donation centers and mobile blood banks popping up wherever they are needed. The need for blood donors is ongoing, and the benefit of this universal approach is that no matter who you are, your blood will find its way to someone who needs it, perhaps desperately

Comparatively, stem cell donation is a much more difficult pursuit. It's a far newer practice than blood donation, and it's far more specific. In order to be able to donate stem cells to another person, your DNA has to have a similar structure to theirs, meaning you have to be from the same kind of racial background. In many cases families fulfill this need, but not always, and if the patient is of mixed heritage, things become a lot more difficult. The stem cell donor registry is growing, but slowly, and only around 3% of it currently identifies as mixed race.

Recently, a 24 year old student named Lara Casalotti was diagnosed with a type of Acute Myeloid Leukemia, an aggressive form of cancer. In many cases, a stem cell transplant is the most effective form of treatment, and so it was with Lara, but she's of Chinese-Thai-Italian descent. As such, her, her friends and her family took to Facebook and Twitter to initiate the #match4lara campaign, signal boosting her story in the hopes of finding a donor. A few weeks after the campaign began, she found one

The charity who principally supported the campaign, Antony Nolan, reported an unprecedented spike in stem cell donor registration after the campaign kicked off, and despite the remarkably low odds of finding a matched donor (1 in 25 million, supposedly) it paid off. Since then, a litany of other pages for patients have been supported and promoted by Match 4 Lara, all in the hopes of finding stem cell donors for mixed-race patients. 

As a result, all these antecedent campaigns have received a huge boost, and are now all supporting each other on Twitter and Facebook. It doesn't take a genius to figure out why this approach has been so effective - the stem cell donor register is nowhere near as comprehensive as it needs to be, but Facebook is 1 billion strong database, and people are far more likely to know their racial background than their blood type. What aids this further is how remarkably easy it is to actually get on the register, you simply send away for a kit, spit into a tube and send it back, and none of it costs you a penny. 

Even people who have no likelihood of being a match for the campaigners are encouraged to to get in on the act, simply to increase the scope of the register. This is one of the best examples of the power of influence social media affords being put to good use, it's a cause nobody can argue with, easy to get involved with and reliant on information that everyone knows about themselves. 

If you're interested in getting on the register, the Match 4 Lara team have a handy list of links to different donor registers across the world, which you can see here

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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Match4Lara - How Social Media is Aiding the Search for Stem Cell Donors Reviewed by Unknown on Thursday, February 25, 2016 Rating: 5

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