UAMS College of Pharmacy Students Organize 2nd Annual Bone Marrow Registry Drive

By Benjamin Waldrum

Be The Match, an initiative of the National Marrow Donor Program, is the world’s largest and most diverse registry of potential marrow donors, with more than 19 million registered worldwide. For people with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma or other blood disorders like sickle cell disease, more donors gives more patients a chance at a cure.

Kyra Ellison

Kyra Ellison swabs her cheek as part of the Be the Match bone marrow registration event.Evan Lewis

A bone marrow transplant, also called a stem cell transplant, is a procedure that infuses healthy blood-forming stem cells into the body to replace bone marrow that isn’t producing enough healthy blood cells.

The Kappa Psi Pharmaceutical Fraternity and Student Society of Nuclear Pharmacy banded together to staff a location for five hours at the UAMS Little Rock campus. Last year, the students registered nearly 100 new donors. This year, they registered another 103.

Austin Richards and Maria Neal, both third-year pharmacy students, co-organized this year’s event. Richards led last year’s initial event, and Neal set up this year’s registration drive. For Richards, registering donors is part of a desire to start a career in oncology.

“This cause is near and dear to my heart after my father passed away from lung cancer when I was in high school,” Richards said. “I’ve been passionate about the field of oncology as well as public service, and this seemed like the perfect collaboration between the two.”

Richards credited College of Pharmacy leadership and professors with helping spread the word. Last year’s event was so successful that they doubled the number of student volunteers.

Students from across UAMS arrived in small groups throughout the day to the reserved room in the Daniel W. Rahn Interprofessional Education Building, where volunteers awaited them. There they filled out a brief information packet and performed two 10-second cheek swabs, which are then packaged and mailed to the registry.

“Only about 15% of people end up having to do the bone marrow donation, where they go with a needle into your femur,” said volunteer and third-year pharmacy student Hannah Johnson. “Most people do a process that’s similar to a plasma donation. It’s much easier than people think.”

Seventy percent of patients who need a transplant do not have a fully matched donor in their family, Richards said, depending on registries like Be the Match to help save their life. Increasing the diversity of donors on the list helps give more patients a fighting chance.

Patients must be matched as closely as possible to donors to avoid rejection, so increasing the diversity of available donors means more options for patients of different backgrounds.

First-year pharmacy students Kylia Williams and Kyra Ellison arrived together to do their cheek swabs. Both students said that increasing donor diversity was a priority for them.

“I came in to [register] because not a lot of Black and brown people have been matched, and I wanted to be the match for them,” Williams said.

“Only 29% of African Americans, Black and brown people, are able to be matched, and I want to make that happen for them,” Ellison said. “Now that I know more information about [registering], I’m definitely interested in helping next year.”