UW News

May 26, 2022

Video: Alexes Harris draws attention to low representation of people of color in bone marrow registry

UW News

Journalists: download video assets here.

In 2016, Alexes Harris was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. The UW professor of sociology was told she had only 18 to 24 months to live if she didn’t have a bone marrow transplant. But the search for bone marrow donors turned up only five matches, and none ended up being a donor.

One reason Harris had trouble finding a match is because people of color are underrepresented on the registry, and ancestry matters when finding a compatible bone marrow match. Harris’ mother is white and her father, Black and Filipino. 

According to Be The Match, the nation’s largest bone marrow registry, a person’s racial and ethnic background is important in predicting the likelihood of finding a match. For example, a white person has a 79% chance of finding a match. A Black person’s potential match is only 29%, and Asian and Latinx people both have about a 47% chance of matching. People of Native American ancestry have a 60% chance of finding a match.

Harris was fortunate; her doctor was aware of a clinical trial that used cord blood stem cells to treat her blood cancer. The stem cell transplant saved her life.

Harris works with Be The Match to raise awareness of the bone marrow registry, especially within communities of color. She calls those who register and commit to becoming potential donors “superheroes” whose actions can save a life.

For more information, contact Harris at yharris@uw.edu