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Almost 500 MIT students, staff and faculty registered to be bone marrow donors last Friday, hoping that one of them would be a match for former MIT student David Li, who is suffering from leukemia.
"This shows how much MIT cares," said sophomore Dan Kwon, one of Mr. Li's roommates in Burton-Conner last year before Mr. Li withdrew from school due to the illness. "Isn't that terrific?"
The bone marrow registration drive concentrated on Asians, Pacific Islanders, Africans, Hispanics, Native Americans and persons of mixed ethnicity because of the shortage of donors from those groups. As of June 30, only 214,000 Asians were registered with the National Marrow Donors Program (NMDP), less than 7 percent of the 3.7 million people in the database. A patient is more likely to match with someone from his or her own ethnic group, so the chances of finding a match for a person from these groups who needs a bone marrow transplant are slim.
"People have been joking with me about me being a match for David," said Mr. Kwon, who donated blood while in high school in Rochester, NY, but never considered marrow donation until Mr. Li broached the subject. "It would be great," he said, "but if I were a match for somebody else, David would be just as happy." For a leukemia patient, the chance of a stem cell/marrow match is one in 20,000 to one in 1 million.
Prospective donors registered in the Bush Room from 10am-4pm and gave a small blood sample, which will be tested to determine the person's human leukocyte antigen (HLA). The results will be added to the NMDP international database, which is searched on behalf of patients who need a transplant.
The drive netted 466 potential donors, virtually all minorities. Because of the shortage of minorities registered as potential donors, funding is earmarked for registering members of those groups. Each test costs about $80.
"Funding constraints required us to focus the drive on minorities," said Burton 2 Graduate Resident Tutor Susan Dacy, a key organizer of the drive. "We were so excited by the turnout on Friday that we're thinking of having another drive on campus for David and other patients worldwide, possibly next semester."
Organizers worked with the Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute to plan and fund the drive. Many MIT offices and student groups supported the drive, including the Office of the President, the Office of the Dean of Students and Undergraduate Education, the Office of Minority Education, the Graduate Student Council, the Chinese Students' Club, the Campus Activities Complex, the Dance Mix Coalition, MIT Medical and the Copy Technology Centers. The drive was spearheaded by Mr. Li in September and organized by his friends, many of whom are residents of Burton 2.
For additional information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Cammy Lee Leukemia Foundation at 1-800-77-CAMMY.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 24, 1999.