Regional bone marrow network extends lifeline

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 February, 1994, 12:00am

BLOOD disease patients waiting for a bone marrow transplant after failing to find a local donor could be offered a lifeline by a network of Asian donors being set up in Japan.

There are already a number of bone marrow registries in the region, including a 17,000-strong list of donors in Hong Kong, but a formal network would give patients access to hundreds of thousands more potential life-savers.

The Hong Kong Marrow Match Foundation welcomed the move to establish an Asian network of registries but warned patients that finding a match overseas was likely to be expensive.

Vice-president Dr Brian Hawkins said: ''The network is good news for patients still waiting for a bone marrow donor because they might just be able to find a match through the network.

''But the big problem with finding a match abroad is funding because tissue typing and marrow harvesting are charged at the local rate, which is often far more expensive than in Hong Kong.'' If any of the 100 or so patients waiting for life-saving transplants in Hong Kong were lucky enough to find donors abroad they would probably be saddled with a hefty medical bill after the operation.

''We have been looking to set up a formal network of registries for some time although in many cases it would be of more benefit to other countries with a large Chinese population than to Hong Kong,'' Dr Hawkins said.

An informal worldwide network of bone marrow donors has existed for some time but when a match for a Hong Kong patient has been found, they have had to travel to the donor's home country and pay for the operation.

Dr Hawkins said: ''I am quite certain there are patients in Hong Kong who could find donors overseas if they had the money to pay for the tissue typing and marrow harvesting.'' A bone marrow registry set up in Japan in 1991 has about 400,000 donors although the chances of a Hong Kong Chinese patient finding a match with a Japanese donor would be slim.

If a donor were found in the United States it would cost a patient about $400,000 just for the marrow harvesting operation.

A Taiwan registry, which was set up at the end of last year and already has about 25,000 donors, is the closest and one of the best bets outside Hong Kong.

''The organisers of the registry in Taiwan are keen to pursue a more formal relationship with Hong Kong,'' Dr Hawkins said.