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Published July 24, 2013, 11:21 AM

College-age people sought as bone marrow donors

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A drive is underway to persuade college-age people to become bone marrow donors. The shortage of donors is so acute that last year only about half of the 12,000 blood cancer patients requesting a donor found one. One reason is that it's been hard to recruit younger people, whose cells are better able to fight cancer.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A drive is underway to persuade college-age people to become bone marrow donors. The shortage of donors is so acute that last year only about half of the 12,000 blood cancer patients requesting a donor found one. One reason is that it's been hard to recruit younger people, whose cells are better able to fight cancer.

With that in mind, Minnesota Public Radio reported Wednesday, nearly two dozen college students from across the nation came to Minneapolis this week to learn new strategies to persuade people their age to become donors. The three-day "boot camp" was run by Be the Match, a Minneapolis nonprofit that keeps a national list of willing donors.

Participants heard from one young person who received a life-saving transplant and others who had lost loved ones.

"I was diagnosed almost seven years ago with MDS, myelodysplastic syndrome," said 27-year-old Rachael Neigart of Be the Match's Gulf Coast Marrow Donor Program. "The registry saved my life."

The opportunity to save lives is a big motivation for the group of enthusiastic college bone marrow recruiters. But how does a savvy bone marrow recruiter get busy students' attention?

"One of our group members dressed up as Cutie the Q-tip," said Greta Diers, a 21-year-old student at the University of Minnesota. That simple gimmick, she said, made students pause at her bone marrow registration booth.

"They saw this guy dressed up ridiculously and maybe stopped just long enough to hear what we had to say," Diers said.

Cutie the Q-tip helped the U of M chapter sign up 400 donors during its February drive. Already three of them have been identified as good matches for patients.

Nadya Dutchin, a national account executive with Be the Match, said new research suggests a patient's chances of surviving improve by as much as one third when the donor is young. The optimal age is 18 to 25.

"The cells that are coming from younger people are just much more robust," Dutchin said. "And they're able to do a better job in the patient."

The national registry has 10.5 million willing donors, but Dutchin said the pool still doesn't contain all of the genetic combinations that are needed to match everyone.

Caucasians have a 93 percent chance of finding a match in the registry, while African-Americans only have a 66 percent chance of finding a match.

By 2015, Be the Match aims to match all of its blood cancer patients with a donor.

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