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Stanford professor to make former Indian student’s last wish a reality

mumbai Updated: Nov 16, 2010 20:28 IST
Kiran Wadhwa
Kiran Wadhwa
Hindustan Times
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Sameer Bhatia, a newly married Silicon Valley entrepreneur, lost the battle against cancer two years ago and died at 32.

The Stanford graduate's last wish: To bring together 25,000 bone marrow donors of Indian origin.

Stanford is now attempting to make his wish a reality and helping create a National Bone Marrow Registry in India. On December 8, Bhatia’s professor, Jennifer Aaker, is hosting a100K cheek swab party in Mumbai to take cheek swabs of potential donors.

“When Sameer was undergoing treatment and battling for his life, he wished his friends would bank 25,000 donors to help others, so we took his goal and doubled it to ultimately creating one million in the registry. We are working with people in India to help make that happen.

There are movements in India that have made significant progress lately and we aim to support them,” said Aaker, a general Atlantic professor of marketing at Stanford. For more information please visit .

Aaker’s book, The Dragonfly Effect, which will be released in India next month, underlines the power of social media and Bhatia’s story is its inspiration. The 100K cheek swab campaign started on October 28 at Stanford. To know more about "The Dragonfly Effect" click here .

With his gaming website, MonkeyBin, getting popular, 31-year-old Bhatia had everything going for him. Then, on a routine business trip to Mumbai, the San Francisco resident started to feel sick. He was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer that starts in the blood-forming tissue, such as the bone marrow.

In 2008, half of the 44,270 new patients of leukemia in the US did not survive. To beat the odds, Bhatia needed a bone marrow transplant which requires a donor with marrow that is as close a genetic match as possible. Since tissue types are inherited, patients are most likely to match someone from their own ethnicity. About 30% look within their families; others search the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). The NMDP wasn’t promising. Only 1.4% of its 6.8 million registered donors was South Asian, giving Bhatia a one in 20,000 chance of finding a perfect match.

There were few other places to look. India did not even have a registry then. No match could be found. Bhatia’s friends stepped in. They emailed 100 of Bhatia’s close friends. Within 48 hours, the forwarded message had reached 35,000 people.

They then combined forces with Team Vinay, a group that had formed a few weeks earlier to save the life of Boston-based Vinay Chakravarthy, a 28-year-old physician who had also been recently diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).

Team Sameer and Team Vinay used web 2.0 services such as Facebook, Google Docs, and YouTube to organise bone marrow drives all over the US. In 11 weeks, Sameer and Vinay’s supporters registered 24,611 south Asians into the bone marrow registry and found a match for both. Sadly, both passed away some months later.

The potential lives saved in the past two years because of the 24,611 South Asians in the registry are over 250.

The ‘Save Sanjana’ campaign

Sanjeev Kumar, another Silicon Valley product’s wife, Sanjana who is in her early 40s was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a kind of blood cancer, in 2005.

Since then she has been undergoing treatment at Stanford. But in December 2008, she relapsed and is under treatment again. She may need a donor transplant soon. In August this year, Sanjeev wrote to Aaker asking for help. The following month he went to India in search of a donor. There were two potential matches but further testing is required to check viability, and success is not guaranteed.

There are two hurdles. First, finding a volunteer who will register and the cost. In the US it costs $60 per donor to be tested and the cost is picked up by philanthropic organisations that support the national bone marrow registry program. In India, there is no national registry so private citizens bear the costs. For more information click here .