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Stem Cell Club

The Stem Cell Club: Strengthening Canada’s Stem Cell Donor Database

Patients with a variety of blood cancers and metabolic diseases may require a stem cell transplant as part of their treatment. However, 80% of patients do not have a suitable match in their family, and must find an unrelated donor. Canada’s stem cell donor-database is used to match potential donors to patients in need. Individuals age 17-35 can register to join this database at stem cell drives, where they provide consent and swab their cheeks to provide a tissue sample. Patients are more likely to match to a donor in their own ethnic group. Additionally, young, male donors are preferred, as they improve recipient outcomes. However, males under age 35 only represent 12% of the current Canadian donor-database (5% non-Caucasian males). Overall, it remains challenging to find a match for a transplant; currently, over 1000 Canadians cannot find a match anywhere in the world.

The UBC Stem Cell Club is a student initiative founded in 2011 to strengthen the quantity and quality of membership on the Canadian stem cell donor database. We have established a community partnership with Canadian Blood Services. We are the first student-run group worldwide that has been accredited to independently run stem-cell drives. We have active chapters at all UBC medicine campuses (in Vancouver, Victoria, Kelowna, and Prince George). To date, we have coordinated dozens of stem cell drives, and recruited 3250 potential stem cell donors (representing 1% of all stem cell donors on Canada’s current stem cell donor database). We also target recruitment of the most-needed stem cell donors according to the literature: young, ethnically diverse males. From November 2012-November 2014, 64.9% of the 1916 registrants recruited at our university drives were male. From October 2013-November 2014, of the 535 males recruited at our university drives, 54.7% self-reported as non-Caucasian and 77.5% age 17-25. Our drives have recruited 35 Aboriginal males under age 35, increasing the representation of this demographic group on Canada’s database by 6%. Three months ago, we also began booking appointments at our drives for students to donate blood; so far, we have signed up 75 students for blood donation appointments.

The sustainability of our initiative is a high priority. Our BC chapters have each built a sustainable network of executives and volunteers. We have developed our own evidence-based volunteer-training program, and we emphasize a strong mentorship environment. We also emphasize quality improvement: executives complete post-event reports that outline strategies for improvement. Further, we have created our own checklists to guide our volunteers at our stem cell drives.

Our club equips medical students with leadership opportunities, training, and skills. We recruit and train students to be health advocates for patients in need of stem cell transplants. Our initiative empowers students to become leaders in Canadian healthcare, and contribute to a critical healthcare resource (the stem cell donor database). We hone medical students’ communication skills to recruit registrants without compromising the importance of informed consent. Our success continues to be a collaborative effort between dozens of medical students across each of UBC’s four medical campuses.

What are the next steps?

We encourage medical students from across Canada to partner with us and establish stem cell clubs at their respective schools. We offer our support and guidance to any individuals or groups of students interested in starting up their own stem cell clubs. We will share our training modules, our stem cell drive checklists, and our funding. We will mentor medical students to found their own stem cell clubs, and guide them to recruit and train their own executive teams. We will connect you directly with Canadian Blood Services or Héma-Québec, and work to accredit your group to run stem cell drives independently. We can, together, dramatically increase the number of individuals we recruit to become stem cell donors, and save lives of patients who cannot find a match today. 


Our work could not have been made possible without the generous funding provided by CFMS. CFMS’s student initiative grants got our initiative off the ground, and supported us as we expanded to university campuses across British Columbia. With CFMS support, we aim to launch a medical student-run stem cell club at every medical school in Canada.

Author Contact Information: Warren Fingrut – [email protected]