Sergio Medrano
Latin America Director
Be The Match
Expert Contributor

Blood Ties With Strangers Can Save Lives

By Sergio Medrano | Wed, 10/13/2021 - 12:46

Maybe the first thought that comes to mind when we think of blood is its red color, its taste of iron, or that faint but very particular smell. Blood. It's essential and, yet, such a natural part of our bodies that we hardly stop to reflect on this precious liquid that runs through our veins and keeps us alive. Blood not only keeps our bodies functioning; it also contains thousands of years of genetic history that makes each one of us unique, one in a million.

Mexico has an incredibly rich genetic diversity that we cannot begin to imagine. That is not a coincidence. Our nation is diverse in proportion to everything we see around us: the people of each state, the landscapes of each region, the food of each corner; everything around us demonstrates the great cultural and ethnic diversity that Mexico has to offer. Our blood is also an example of this. Research carried out by the Department of Genetics at Stanford University, California, shows that the structure of the indigenous population "has been transferred and conserved in the ancestral components of the population we refer to today as mestizo."

Can you imagine all the cultural and ancestral richness that flows through our veins? Today, 68 indigenous communities live in the territory but the history of those who are no longer with us on this Earth is also inside us. Our blood is like a highway through which millenary genes race, not only native but also those who came to Mexico from other places. Each of us has closely related genetic markers present in a chromosome and they tend to be inherited together. These haplotypes (genetic codes) can be present in many communities, even after migrating and inheriting new combinations. So, I may have the same haplotype as a person on the other side of the world, even if it is a generation born on another continent.

This diversity is impressive but it can be an obstacle for people who need to find a genetically compatible donor to receive a bone marrow or stem cell transplant to continue living. The first option we might consider is to reach out to our immediate family to search for a match but only 30 percent are able to find a donor within their direct family line. Seventy percent begin a search that sometimes is longer than the time they have to live. 

But diversity also is part of the solution. Be The Match® Mexico, a nonprofit association that helps patients with blood diseases by connecting them with altruistic stem cell donors, has the most diverse registry of potential donors in the world. To date, there are more than 78,000 registered donors; however, this number must continue to increase to provide every patient with a potential match. 

Thanks to Be The Match® Mexico, 37 transplants have taken place in Mexico, of which seven cases were nationals: donor and patient living in the territory. In addition, 86 stem cell collections have been carried out by donors who are family members and from the registry. But this is not enough to cover the need in a country where there are 14,000 new cases of cancer or blood diseases detected every year, and around 2,000 of those will require a transplant as their last or only option for treatment.

It is crucial to create and solidify a donation culture in Mexico. This includes widely disseminating information about the processes involved, breaking down myths and involving more doctors and institutions in raising awareness about our goal to have over 1 million people registered as potential donors by 2027.

When you say "yes" to joining the registry and are committed to saying "yes" to be a donor when you are called, your decision impacts both patients and their families. On a much larger scale, it impacts an entire society that needs to create ties, in this case, literally of blood, to remind us that this world can be a better place for everyone

Photo by:   Sergio Medrano