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Bone Marrow Registry's Lack of Diversity a Fatal Flaw

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African-Americans and Asians have the lowest likelihood of finding a bone marrow match through the national registry. NY1's Erin Billups filed the first part of a two-part series looking at the make-up of the registry.

It was only when he could no longer work, that many of Marlon Layne's co-workers discovered he was living with leukemia.

"I didn’t realize that he had an illness. He didn’t really tell folks, and that’s something that I appreciated is that he was a mentor to me, vocally, but one of the things I realize is that he could also be a mentor by saying nothing," says Omari Jinaki, Marketing Analytics Associate Director at Ogilvy & Mather.

Unable to find a donor in the national Be the Match Bone Marrow Registry, Layne died in 2011 at the age of 41.

It was a shock to his colleagues at Ogilvy & Mather. As a result, Jinaki and several others at the marketing firm began working with the Icla Da Silva Foundation to raise awareness to help increase the number of black, Hispanic and Asian donors.

"It’s a shame that in our community we are so under-served and so underrepresented in general, and especially with regard to providing marrow registrants," Jinaki says.

Out of the 11 million donors on the registry, about seven percent are black. That's around 746,000 possible donors.

The numbers are similar for Asians, and even worse for Native Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Hispanic donors make up around 10 percent of the registry.

Compare that with nearly 7.4 million white donors, 65 percent of the registry.

"There is a greater misunderstanding and misconception about bone marrow donation within the racial and ethnic minorities," says Icla Da Silva Foundation President Airam Da Silva.

About 70 percent of patients who need marrow transplants can't find a match within their own families, which is why more diversity within the registry is crucial

You have a better chance of matching with someone from the same ethnicity.

"Leukemia, lymphoma and hundreds of other diseases that are treated through a bone marrow transplant and its in our hands, each one of us New Yorkers—in such a large, diverse city—that we can make a change and a difference in those patient's lives," Da Silva says.

In part two of this story, we'll take a look at what goes into donating bone marrow and some of the lingering misconceptions.

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