Leukaemia patient's desperate bone marrow search goes viral


Nina Lakhani
Sunday 13 November 2011 18:02

A desperate search for a bone marrow match to save a leukaemia patient has gone viral, highlighting the chronic international shortage of black and ethnic minority donors which results in hundreds of deaths every year.

Amit Gupta, 32, whose family originate from India, has only 16 days to find a suitable donor or else see his chances of surviving the disease plummet. The talented social media entrepreneur from Connecticut, USA was diagnosed with an aggressive type of acute leukaemia only six weeks ago after feel poorly for just a few days.

A bone marrow transplant would double his chances of survival, but time is running out to find a genetic match. A black or ethnic minority patient currently has only 40 per cent chance of finding an unrelated suitable donor compared to 90 per cent for Caucasians. Only one in three sufferers is lucky enough to find a match from within their own family. After that, patients turn to bone marrow stem cell registries to search for a suitable donor.

There are currently 19million registered donors worldwide but the vast majority are white Caucasians. An ethnicity match is crucial because some tissue types are limited to each ethnic group.

In the UK alone, there are currently 1,600 people waiting for a bone marrow transfusion out of a total 37,000 worldwide. Only half will find a suitable match. There are 744,000 donors on the two UK’s registries. Around 20 per cent are from ethnic minorities on the Anthony Nolan registry, but this drops to less than 5per cent on the NHS list.

Mr Gupta’s friends are using social media sites to galvanize people across the world to carry out a simple saliva test to check if they are suitable. Bone marrow registries across the world are interlinked but so far so match has been found.

Mr Gupta, who founded popular photo-sharing website, Photojojo, and social networking site, Jelly, is at home with his family trying to recover from a second cycle of gruelling chemotherapy. His friends and family have organised ‘Swab for Amit’ events across the US and India in an attempt to swell donor numbers from the Asian communities. Donating bone marrow takes a few hours but is no more painful than giving blood.

Last night he said: "It's about pulling a community out of last place in the donor odds."

In the UK, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust was set-up in 1996 by the parents of Daniel De-gale, 9, who needed a bone marrow transplant to survive acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. Since then, they have helped increase the number of potential black and mixed race donors from 550 to 35,000, saving 30 lives as a result.

Orin Lewis, step-father of Daniel, who died in 2008 aged 21, said: “Time is against Amit Gupta as it is very very difficult for ethnic minorities to get a match because not enough people from these communities are stepping forward. We work within the communities to try and dispel the cultural and religious myths and miscommunications that still exist. There is also a lot of mistrust built-up between black and Muslim communities and the authorities so we try and act as a bridge so they can register through us.”

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