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Soldier's Plight Spotlights Marrow Bank Crisis

One leukemia patient's search for matching bone marrow has highlighted the urgent need of bone marrow banks for money to cover the costs of testing donated blood samples.


Wei Nan, a 20-year-old soldier in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, was diagnosed with acute leukemia on July 11 and needs an urgent marrow transplant.


Wei's mother, Wang Yan, has appealed to bone marrow banks across the Chinese mainland, Taiwan and Japan for help, but none of the samples supplied have matched.


A local newspaper in Harbin, Heilongjiang's capital, called for local residents to donate stem cells for the soldier, and many volunteers called to show their willingness to help.


But Luan Shuqin, director of the local bone marrow bank, said "We can take more blood samples from donors, but we don't have enough money to test them."


According to her, each blood sample should go through a Human Leukocyte Antigens test before the sample data can be stored on Zhonghua Marrow Bank's database. "But the tests cost 530 yuan (US$65) each."


Luan said the bank has collected 11,000 blood samples from volunteers but only 7,000 samples' information could be recorded due to lack of funds.


Forty-six samples have been preliminarily found to match that of current leukemia patients, and four people have already been saved, according to her, but "the lack of funds may result in the loss of information about donors."


The Zhonghua Marrow Bank, also known as Hematopoietic Stem Cell Donor Databank, has 30 branches throughout the country.


"Lack of cash for testing is a problem all its branches are facing," Luan said.


Each year, the government puts a quota on donors that will be funded, and Heilongjiang's is only 3,000 this year.


"If we want to expand the bank, we need to find money to cover the testing costs ourselves," said Luan.


"At present, Heilongjiang has the highest incidence of leukemia, with about 1,000 children suffering from it," said Ma Jun, director of Heilongjiang Blood Research Center.


The incidence is seven in every 100,000 people in the province, compared to the national average of about five.


According to Ma, the province's population of 38 million needs a marrow bank that contains data on at least 100,000 potential donors.


The matching success rate for bone marrow is just one in 10,000 for relatives and one in 100,000 for non-relatives.


"We do need more volunteers, but we also need funds to do sample analysis and expand the capacity of the marrow station," Luan said.


In contrast, exclusive funds are allocated to cover analysis costs and 30 percent of volunteers in Shanghai are willing to pay for the analysis out of their own pockets, she said.


(China Daily August 10, 2005)

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