September is Blood Cancer Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the many ongoing efforts to fight blood cancer and to remember the hundreds of thousands of patients who have passed away due to these devastating conditions. Blood cancer encompasses disorders that affect the blood, bone marrow, and lymphatic system. Depending on the type of cells affected, these cancers are called leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, myelodysplastic syndromes, and myeloproliferative neoplasms. Someone in the U.S. dies from blood cancer every 9 minutes, and more than 1.5 million Americans are living with or in remission from blood cancer.
Blood cancer treatment usually starts with chemotherapy and can occur alone or with other drugs and treatments. Often, these treatments are designed to destroy the patient’s cancerous bone marrow. Other times, chemotherapy and radiation that kill circulating cancer cells in the blood also have an unfortunate side effect of destroying the patient’s bone marrow, where blood cells are made. The purpose of bone marrow transplants (also called hematopoietic stem cell transplants, or HSCT) is to replenish the body with new bone marrow. The new bone marrow will start producing healthy, cancer-free blood cells after a successful transplant. In some cases, the new blood cells will even attack and destroy cancer cells that survived the initial chemotherapy round, a phenomenon called the graft-versus-tumor effect.
The best bone marrow transplant outcomes happen when a patient’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes match that of their donor. For many patients, the best match is a sibling. However, only about 30% of patients have an HLA-matched sibling, which has led to the development of global bone marrow donor registries to facilitate the act of matching patients to unrelated donors with an ideal HLA. Despite the size of these registries, not all patients are able to find a suitable donor, and large variability in group representation has a particularly negative effect on minority populations.
At Ossium, we are driven by the opportunity to impact patients in need and we believe that a healthier world is a better one. We are working hard to build a vast and diverse bank of on-demand bone marrow that will make bone marrow transplants available for more patients.