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Cell donor here may save life in America
By Chen Zhiyong (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-06-24 00:47

Wu Yu is a beautiful sophomore at Chongqing University of Medical Sciences.

She may never have imagined that one day she'd appear under the spotlight of the nation's media.

Wu Yu, a sophomore from Chongqing University of Medical Sciences, will donate stem cells to an American Chinese suffering from blood cancer. [xinhua]
But that's exactly what's happening. In a matter of days, she will become the first stem cell donor in China to provide a vital donation of cells to a cancer patient in a foreign country, in this case, the United States.

"It is a great honour for me," Wu said, clad in a casual outfit with suspenders and carrying her school backpack as she got off an airliner yesterday afternoon in Beijing. "I am going to save a life."

The recipient is an American Chinese doctor in his early 40s, surnamed Cai. He has been desperately looking for a donor with perfectly matching Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) in the stem cell database of the United States and Taiwan in for years.

HLA are proteins located on the surface of white blood cells and other tissues in the body. When two people share the same HLA, they are said to be a "match;" that is, their tissues are immunologically compatible.

The lucky turn for Mr Cai happened in March when he was searching in the China Marrow Database.

A preliminary match of four entries in the database have been identified.

Later after further extensive examinations were conducted twice in both the United States and China, showing Wu was indeed a perfect match.

"The chance of match can range from one in 400 to one in 10,000 among people who are not blood relatives. For some rare HLA types, the chance of a match is even more tiny. In Cai's case, the chance was one in hundreds of thousands," said Hong Junling, director of the Hematopoietic Stem Cell Donor Programme Administration Centre.

The small probability for Cai finding his perfect donor is owed to one of the most important decisions Wu has ever made.

Last September, she chose to become a volunteer stem cell donor after local Red Cross Society officials went to her campus to appeal for students to give desperate blood cancer patients a chance at life.

In Wu's four-member dorm, two signed up to donate. All together, more than 100 blood samples were collected on the campus to go through the HLA testing and all relative materials were stored in the Zhonghua Marrow Database.

As a medical major, Wu is unconcerned about an upcoming Friday injection of GM-CSF, a drug used to increase the haematopoietic stem cells in her circulating blood. Nor is she worried about two stem cell collections arranged for next Monday and Tuesday at Beijing's Daopei Hospital.

She admits that her parents once worried about possible complications. However, after her careful explanations about the whole procedure, their fears were finally dispelled.

In fact, since it is semester examination time, university authorities have allowed her to take make-up examinations in order not to delay the best time for transplanting her cells into the American patient.

Next Tuesday, the American doctor in charge of Cai will fly to Beijing to fetch the collected 200 milliliters of Wu's stem cells.

"The occurrence of such a stem cell donation across countries will be more and more frequent with our ever enlarging entries into databases," said Hong.

Starting this year, the China Marrow databank has witnessed a fast expansion. So far, the number of registered samples has already reached 140,000. The centre's goal is achieving 200,000 by year's end.

"What we have achieved should not be kept from the public and sufficient funds should be appropriated by the government," Hong said.

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