Amit Gupta's good news: Marrow donor finds match
A web entrepreneur and cancer patient who became a symbol for South Asian bone marrow donation has found a match.
Amit Gupta made headlines in 2011 by raising awareness about the dearth of Asian bone marrow donors. His motives were more than altruistic. Mr Gupta, founder of the software company Photojojo, had been diagnosed with acute leukaemia and needed a bone marrow transplant.
As the BBC noted in a December 2011 article about Mr Gupta:
"As an Indian-American, his odds of finding a donor were slim, about 1-in-20,000. South Asians, like other minorities in the US, are dramatically under-represented in the national bone marrow registry. Because a successful donation requires a close genetic match, this small pool of potential candidates is not good news for people like Mr Gupta. "
From the original article
Mr Gupta and his friends decided to use their fluency with social media to compensate [for the lack of South Asian donors]. By organising "swab parties" at tech centres like Google and Facebook and spreading the word online, they hoped to both increase his odds of finding a match and increase the overall number of South Asians in the national registry.
This week, after months of searching, hundreds of donor events across the world, and thousands of tweets and blog posts, Amit Gupta found his match.
Specifically, he found a 10-point match, meaning tha0t all of the 10 genetic markers against which potential donors and recipients are matched were identical.
In the process, a sizeable amount of South Asians joined the donor pool.
Moazzam Ali Khan, director of donor recruitment and community outreach at the South Asian Marrow Association of Recruiters organised several donor drives on behalf of Mr Gupta. He says those drives brought in about 4,000 new donors - a significant part of their 2011 total.
"These are now 4,000 who were not there before," says Mr Khan. "That's 4,000 new hopes for South Asian patients."
On a December appearance on the US public radio programme the Takeaway, Mr Gupta said he anticipated that 10,000 people would be added to the registry in total.A long road
The journey is not over for Mr Gupta. Writing on blogging site Tumblr, he describes the arduous weeks to come. He is currently admitted to Dana Farber Hospital in Boston, where he will remain for a month or more.
During that time, he will undergo extensive chemotherapy. "In the process, the immune system I was born with, and my body's ability to make blood, are destroyed," he writes.
Then, the donor cells will be administered to Mr Gupta intravenously, followed by a course of immunosuppressant drugs to keep his body from rejecting the new cells.
"Meanwhile, the stem cells make their way to my bone marrow and, with some luck, start producing platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells. At this point, my blood type changes to the blood type of my donor. And my blood will now have my donor's DNA, not my own." he writes, calling the process "science fiction stuff".
The transplant improves Mr Gupta's prognosis tremendously, though it is fraught with complications and the potential for a return of the cancer.
Despite Mr Gupta's visibility and popularity, the process was not easy. At one point a potential match was found, but that person was not able to schedule a donation in time. Other seemingly promising matches turned out to be dead ends.
In December, the BBC spoke to Sachin Jain, a clinical fellow at Harvard medical school and a social media consultant. At that time, he noted that the small number of South Asians in the donor pool was further complicated by the tremendous range of genetic variety in the South Asian population.
"Indians genotpyically are such a diverse group of people. Someone from north India and someone from south India ultimately have completely different genotypes," he said.
Though Mr Gupta's search is now over, the problem of low donor turnout has not gone away.
At the same time Mr Gupta was seeking donors, says Mr Khan, two other South Asian patients were also holding recruitment drives: a 32-year old man from Florida and an eight year old from California.
Both are still looking for a match.