Canadian Blood Services calls on Sask. students to join stem cell registry

Kayle Neis/Regina Leader-Post. Aaron Barlow, Canadian Blood Services community development manager at the donor centre in Regina in 2023.

“There are nearly 1,000 people in Canada who are currently waiting for a lifesaving stem cell transplant,” community development manager Aaron Barlow said.

Trillian Reynoldson, Regina Leader-Post

Canadian Blood Services is calling on Saskatchewan students to help with its goal to add 1,000 new people to its stem cell registry across the country.

“It’s kind of a benchmark, as there are nearly 1,000 people in Canada who are currently waiting for a lifesaving stem cell transplant,” community development manager Aaron Barlow said in an interview Friday. “Stem cell transplants can treat over 80 diseases and disorders.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic students at campuses in Saskatoon and Regina have the opportunity to be a part of this “1,000 swab challenge” at swabbing events from Monday, Feb. 5 to Friday, Feb. 16.

Barlow said it’s an easy process for students. Canadian Blood Services will provide them with a swabbing kit that has a QR code inside that will take them to a web page where they can fill out their information.

“You take one of the four swabs from inside of that kit and you swab a quadrant of your mouth for about 20 seconds, you place that swab back into the kit and close it up,” he said. “We send it off and it is processed, and then you are in the registry.”

A release from Canadian Blood Services said stem cell transplants are often a patient’s last hope for survival, and that stem cells from younger donors typically lead to better patient outcomes.

Barlow said the current eligibility is healthy individuals between the ages of 17 and 35. More importantly, he said Canadian Blood Services wants a diverse registry.

“You are more likely to find a match with a donor who shares a similar ancestral background,” he said, adding there’s a greater need for potential donors with Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, Hispanic, Black and mixed raced backgrounds.

“Right now, patients with these ethnic backgrounds find it especially challenging to find a match because there’s a low percentage of overall registers who match that diverse background.”

Barlow said there are two ways stem cells can be collected when a registrant is matched with someone needing a transplant. One method is through a process similar to blood donation, and the other is by collecting the stem cells from the back of the hip bone. Barlow said the method used depends on what the stem cell load looks like during screening.

“For stem cells you can do what’s called a called peripheral blood stem cell donation, so stem cells are taken from blood drawn from your arm much like a plasma or platelet donation using a non-surgical process called apheresis,” he said.

“Alternatively, if that load isn’t there, we can decide that it’s going to be taken from your pelvic bone.”

While the swabbing event is taking place at Sask Polytech in Regina and Saskatoon, Barlow said they are looking at ways to engage other campuses in the province in the coming weeks.

People who are eligible can also order a swabbing kit through the Canadian Blood Services website.