Bone marrow drive held at UC Berkeley

January 19, 2011 5:40:31 PM PST
Family and friends of a woman diagnosed with leukemia will continue their search for a bone marrow donor today at the University of California at Berkeley.

At the two-day drive, taking place today and Friday at Sproul Plaza on campus, relatives are hoping to find a marrow match to save the life of Sonia Raj, said Carol Gillespie, executive director of the Asian American Donor Program.

Raj, 24, was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia just last month. In the past three weeks, Gillespie said Raj's family has organized 100 drives all over the nation.

Thousands of people have joined the "Be the Match" registry through those drives, she said.

"Just a week before Christmas, I got a call from the family frantically wanting to schedule donor events," Gillespie said. "They mobilized so quickly. It was an incredible feat."

AADP, an official multi-racial recruitment group for the National Marrow Donor Program, decided to partner with the family on what they are calling the "Cure Sonia" campaign.

Some of them have even taken a leave of absence from their jobs to devote themselves to the hunt, Gillepsie said.

Despite their efforts, no match for Raj has been found so far. Raj was born and raised in the Los Angeles area and attended the University of California at Los Angeles before moving to Boston, Mass.

Raj is currently being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

Gillespie said Raj is of South Asian descent, and that it is most likely that someone with the same ethnic background will have compatible marrow.

"But there are very few South Asians on the registry," Gillespie said. "The group is very underrepresented when compared with population figures."

Gillespie said Raj's cancer is "very aggressive" and doctors have set a six-week deadline for finding a donor.

Raj's brother has moved to Boston to be with his sister and devoted much of his time to finding a solution to the donor pool difficulties.

"Her brother is very scientifically inclined and has been studying the human leukemia antigens necessary for a perfect match," she said. "He said that she could potentially be matched to an Asian Pacific Islander, so that opens up some doors."

Her brother's finding has prompted the program to widen their outreach tactics.

"We are trying to reach out to those particular groups," Gillespie said. "But we will register anyone that's willing. It's not over until we find the perfect match."

Those interested in joining the registry can attend the drives from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley or visit for more information.