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Bi-racial bone marrow hard to find

October 10, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
This year's historic election illustrates just how diverse our nation is. But experts say you'd never know that by looking at who's registered to donate bone marrow. One local woman's mixed heritage sheds the spotlight on another growing group of individuals in desperate need.Growing up in two cultures is something 26-year-old Krissy Kobata embraces.

"You always took pride in your heritage because it's something that is unique and special," said Krissy.

But being half white and half Japanese has put her in a unique situation. In April, Krissy was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome.

"It's a bone marrow failure. My bone marrow isn't producing any of the healthy cells it needs to be producing," said Krissy.

She's stable now, but she could downward spiral tomorrow, next week or the next year. No one knows. What doctors do know is without a bone marrow transplant, the disease will worsen.

"They immediately tested my brother and it was devastating when we found out he was not a match," said Krissy.

Each year, of the 10,000 to 15,000 patients who need an unrelated bone marrow match only a quarter find one. The odds are much worse for Krissy because she's bi-racial.

Of the seven million people in the National Marrow Donor Program only 180,000 have multi-racial backgrounds.

"The larger the donor pool the better chance for finding a match," said Jimmy Loon.

Jimmy Loon is a marrow expert for One Lambda, the nation's largest supplier of bone marrow testing kits. He says the goal is to find someone with matching human leukocyte antigens located on chromosome six.

This is called a haplo-type and it's made up of alleles inherited from each parent.

Some of Krissy's alleles are specific to the Japanese population.

"You also have to match the alleles that come from the Caucasian gene pool," said Loon.

A Japanese/Caucasian mix is her best bet, although Loon says the Caucasian part of Krissy's alleles may also be found in someone Chinese.

Haplo-types vary because of genes handed down thru generations. So the more people who register, the better.

"You could be making all the difference in the world. You could be saving someone's life. That is probably the most powerful thing you can take a way from it," said Krissy.

Krissy is working with Asians for Miracle Matches to organize local bone marrow drives. They're holding a key fundraiser in November.

 

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