SOUTHEASTERN STUDENTS KICK OFF SWABBIN' 4 ROBIN – Southeastern Louisiana University senior Christopher McKinley demonstrates the swabbing technique for DNA collection to fellow student Whitney Christy as they prepare to launch the Swabbin' 4 Robin campaign designed to increase awareness and the number of potential bone marrow donors. The campaign is being conducted in honor of "Good Morning America" anchor and Southeastern alumna Robin Roberts, who recently underwent a bone marrow transplant.
HAMMOND –Students at Southeastern Louisiana University are joining with Be the Match, a national bone marrow donor program, in a year-long effort to educate the public and recruit potential bone marrow donors for patients diagnosed with leukemia and other life-threatening blood diseases.
The program is called "Swabbin' 4 Robin" in honor and support of "Good Morning America" anchor Robin Roberts, Southeastern basketball star and 1983 graduate. Roberts recently underwent a bone marrow transplant to treat myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a disease also known as pre-leukemia. Roberts' sister, WWL-TV morning anchor Sally-Ann Roberts, provided the marrow for the transplant procedure. Robin Roberts is at her home in New York on leave from "Good Morning America" as she recuperates from the procedure.
The 'Swabbin' name also refers to the DNA collection method that requires a simple, painless cheek swab. There is no need to draw blood or any other samples.
"Our goal is to help educate the campus and the general public about the need for potential donors and to sponsor at least one DNA collection event at competitions of all Southeastern athletic teams," said Whitney Christy, an organizational communication junior from Donaldsonville. "We will also sponsor collection events on campus where students will be encouraged to participate."
Whitney and senior organizational communication major Chris McKinley of Baton Rouge are spearheading the student-led project. Both have undergone training to be DNA collectors by Be the Match and are busy training other student leaders from various fraternities, sororities, student organizations and athletic teams.
"It's a very simple process, just a matter of swabbing the inside of the cheek to collect cells for DNA analysis and typing," McKinley said.
Once the swabs are collected, the information will be coded into the national database of potential donors. There is a particular need for African American donors.
"African Americans are more genetically diverse than those of other heritages, so it's more difficult to find a donor match," Christy said. "And while the registry has more than nine million potential donors in its database, only about seven percent of these are of African American or black heritage. Only about 66 percent of African American patients ever find a donor match. In fact, the database needs more representation from all minorities"
McKinley said the goal is to collect as many strongly committed donors as possible from all ethnic groups, particularly those between the ages of 18 and 44. He emphasized the importance of recruiting strongly committed potential donors.
"The cost of processing the DNA is expensive, about $100 per sample, so it's not anything to be considered lightly or on a whim," he added.
On-campus partners include the Southeastern Foundation, Athletics Department, Student Government Association, Greek and other student organizations. The campaign will also include T-shirt sales and fund raising activities to help offset costs for Be the Match.
Christy has a special interest in seeing the project be successful. Her father and namesake, Whitney Joseph Christy, was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. The successful transplant was performed in 2002.
Be the Match is the world's largest, most diverse registry of potential marrow donors and has facilitated more than 50,000 transplants since 1987.
McKinley said more than 10,000 patients a year are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia, and for many of these individuals a marrow transplant from an unrelated donor may be their best hope for a cure.
According to Be the Match, patients are most likely to match someone who shares their racial heritage.
For more information, go to the web page southeastern.edu/swabbin4robin or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Swabbin4Robin.