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The facts on bone-marrow transplants

Hundreds of people are tested at the Farmingville

Hundreds of people are tested at the Farmingville fire department on Sunday to see if they are a bone marrow match with Julianna Buttner, 6. (Nov. 29, 2009) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Each year in this country, more than 10,000 people like Julianna Buttner are diagnosed with diseases whose best hope for a cure is a bone-marrow transplant.

About 70 life-threatening diseases or conditions can be treated with such transplants. They range from leukemia, such as Julianna's acute lymphocytic type, to sickle cell anemia.

Generally, the doctor will look first to the family - especially siblings - to find a match, said Dr. Joel Brochstein. He is associate chief for cellular therapy in pediatric hematology-oncology at Schneider Children's Hospital in New Hyde Park. A sibling has a 25 percent chance of being a match, he said; parents have a 5 percent chance.

About 30 percent of those needing transplants get a match from a family member, according to Antoine LaFromboise, a spokesman for the National Donor Marrow Program. The nonprofit, based in Minneapolis, runs the national bone marrow registry.

Doctors for the other 70 percent of patients rely on the registry. It has more than 7 million registrants - 312,000 of them from New York, which has the third highest number of registrants in the country behind California and Texas.

The likelihood of finding a match from the registry ranges from 60 percent to 88 percent, depending on a patient's race or ethnicity, LaFromboise said. White people make up about 73 percent of the registry, while African-Americans make up 8 percent, Hispanics 9 percent and Native Hawaiians only 0.1 percent of the registry. Generally, a person's race and ethnicity are a factor in finding a match.

Each year about 750 New Yorkers need a transplant from an unrelated donor, LaFromboise said.

Brochstein said it is rare to find a tissue match from a donor drive like the one held in November for Julianna, 6, because of the many variations of tissue types. "It is like looking for a needle in a haystack," he said. But drives add people to the registry, he said, broadening its scope.

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