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Young leukemia patient finds a genetic twin
Lara Casalotti, a young woman with cancer of the blood, needed a genetic twin for a life-saving bone marrow donation. The patient launched an almost hopeless campaign on the Internet - and was successful. She found the right one for her out of 25 million people willing to donate.
Blood cancer is often discovered by accident
According to the Cancer Information Service, around 11,500 people develop leukemia in Germany every year. Worldwide there are said to be more than 900,000. In very many cases, blood cancer is only discovered through a random diagnosis. So with Lara Casalotti. The complaints came slowly, as the dpa news agency reports. First the leg hurt, then the hip. When the 24-year-old London student finally went to the doctor last December, the devastating diagnosis came: The young woman suffers from an aggressive form of blood cancer, acute myeloid leukemia (AML). As the doctors told her at the time, she needed a bone marrow transplant within four months to survive "That was a big shock," said Lara.
Bone marrow transmission as the only chance
Bone marrow transmission is often the only way to cure the dangerous condition. However, the patients need cells from a human with matching tissue characteristics, a so-called genetic twin. The prospect of success is higher among people of the same origin. But the parents of the London student have Thai-Chinese and Italian roots. This ethnic mix made the search for a suitable stem cell donor much more difficult. There are over 25 million registered donors worldwide, but only a few of them have a genetic background similar to Lara, according to dpa. According to the information, a third of the sick, many of whom are children and adolescents, find a donor in their own family. This was not the case with Lara, and even her only brother Seb was out of the question as a donor. Like the majority of blood cancer patients, the 24-year-old was dependent on help from strangers.
Every fifth patient does not find a donor
According to the German Bone Marrow Donor File (DKMS), the prospect of a suitable donor is not too high. Accordingly, one in five patients generally does not find a donor. According to her relatives, the chances of rescue for Lara with her special genetic background were extremely poor. But neither family nor friends were discouraged and went on the proverbial search for the needle in the haystack. With the help of their “Match4Lara” campaign (hit for Lara), they called on people all over the world to register as stem cell donors via video messages, Facebook and Twitter. Celebrities like Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling and British Prime Minister David Cameron campaigned for Lara - with success.
As the blood cancer foundation "Anthony Nolan" announced, more than 20,000 new donors registered in Great Britain alone within weeks. According to the organizers, the increase is "unprecedented". Registration is easy: a cheek swab or blood test is enough. According to the DKMS, even the transplantation usually takes place without an operation, the donors remain anonymous. Everyone can check on the DKMS website whether they meet the requirements to become a donor. The DKMS sometimes initiates campaigns to help patients. Together with the family of a nine-year-old boy from Vogtland, they started the "Save Clemens" campaign to find a suitable stem cell donor.
Found among 25 million matching donors
Lara's relatives drove the campaign not only in England, but also in distant Thailand. As the dpa news agency reports, monks, soldiers and students queued up to be included in databases. "The response was phenomenal," said Lara. She said that people from all over the world wrote to her and shared their own destinies: "It was very touching." In early February, Lara finally found a suitable donor. "It is incredible and wonderful that this person is under 25 million," said the young woman in a video message on YouTube. "If everything goes according to plan, I will be able to undergo the transplant soon," said the patient.
Register as a donor
Even after this great success, Lara wants to continue. The young woman wants to draw attention to the bone marrow donation and above all to mediate genetic twins of ethnic minorities. "It is really important that people register as donors," said the Londoner. "You could save someone who is in a situation similar to mine." Stem cell donation can save lives. Her brother Seb is also relieved that the depressing situation has become a life-affirming mission. "It's a shared success, people have made a difference for Lara and thousands of others out there," said the 20-year-old, according to dpa. He encourages everyone to register. According to Seb, helping in this case is so easy "like spitting into a mug". (ad)