Bone marrow drives to use bloodless test
Potential donors need only swab the inside of their cheeks
Potential bone marrow donors need only swab cheek cells inside their mouths instead of donating blood at future bone marrow drives.
A new technique called "buccal swab" goes into effect nationwide today. "Buccal" refers to the cheek area of the mouth.
The Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry at St. Francis Medical Center will use the technique at bone marrow drives April 26 at Waianae High School and May 1 at Hawaii Community College in Hilo.
Donation advocates hope the swab technique will encourage people who are reluctant to provide a blood sample to sign up as potential bone marrow donors, said Roy Yonashiro, Hawaii Registry donor recruitment coordinator.
The Hawaii Registry has 66,000 potential donors listed from Hawaii, Guam and American Samoa, he said. Of those, 30 to 40 percent are Asian/Pacific Islanders.
"We do have the largest Asian population in our registry, bigger than any other state," he said. "That is a plus for us. That's our job on the national level, to recruit Asian/Pacific Islanders."
Still, many more are needed to find donor matches to save patients needing bone marrow transplants, he said.
"A lot of them (potential donors) are afraid of needles and don't like anything taken from them," Yonashiro said. "We're trying to make it easy for them and educate them about the next step if they get called."
Blood will be collected for further testing if someone is called to be a donor, he said, adding that he hopes the swab technique "will open the door for us."
It works this way: Kits with four cotton-tip swabs are given to donors at the drives. The donors swab cheek cells inside their mouths at each corner.
"It's quick, simple and painless," taking about 10 seconds per swab, Yonashiro said.
A staff member labels and bar-codes the swabs to protect the confidentiality of potential donors, and the swabs are sent to a National Marrow Donor Program laboratory in Minneapolis for testing and storage.
Department of Defense donor centers inaugurated the new procedure, with "phenomenal success," Yonashiro said.
He said he saw a drive with the swab technique at the Navy Exchange near Pearl Harbor and "was very impressed with the response they were getting from the people, and willingness of the staff to explain that this is not all there is."
Many people sign up because they feel sorry for a child or someone who needs a bone marrow transplant, thinking they will never be called as a possible match, he said.
"People in general have good hearts. They want to help, but there is a little hesitation and they're afraid. We're trying to overcome that now. We hope they stay committed and stay in the registry at the time we call them."
People who are called about a possible match find it is easier than they thought it would be, he said. "They thought it would be major surgery."
Besides convenience for donors, he said the new technique will solve blood samples' problems with storage and viability of cells.
The centers were taking two tubes of whole blood (10 milligrams) for each sample until the laboratories ran out of storage space, he said. Then they switched to filtered paper cards. Blood was dried on the cards and shipped to the laboratories, but the product was unstable and again there was a storage problem.
Donors must be between age 18 and 60 and in good general health. They only need to register once.
For more information
To update donor information or obtain more information about the donor program, call 547-6154 or visit www.stfrancishawaii.org/hawaiibonemarrow.
Bone marrow drives
There are two bone marrow drives coming up:
» April 26, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Waianae High School, 85-251 Farrington Highway. The school's Health Academy is sponsoring the drive as part of an education process with the Hawaii Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
» May 1, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Hawaii Community College, 200 W. Kawili St., Hilo.