Mixed Match

Mixed Match: When Ancestry is to Care

Directed by Jeff Chiba Stearns (2016)

Film Review

This documentary explores the little known crisis around mixed race patients with aplastic anemia, leukemia and other blood diseases that require a donor match for a bone marrow transplant.*

To prevent host rejection of a bone marrow transplant, six Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLAs) must match. Siblings have only a one in four chance of having six matching HLA markers.

Mixed race individuals are the fastest growing demographic in the US and Canada, and HLA markers vary greatly between ethnic groups. Owing to slave rape, most African Americans have some European ancestry.

Caucasian ethnic groups are broadly divided into North, South, East, and West European subgroups, though exact HLA matches are more likely where the donor and recipient share ancestors of the same nationality (eg Italian, French, English, Scottish, etc). Likewise mixed race Asians are more likely to find matching donors where they have ancestors with the same nationality (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc).

The film mainly profiles the work of The Mixed Match Project, a Los Angeles-based charitable group that does outreach to mixed race Americans and Canadians to register their DNA with the Canadian Blood Services Stem Cell Registry or the US Match Registry. The filmmakers follow one donor and two recipient patients through the surgical procedures required for bone marrow donation. In one case, a  leukeumia patient receives matching umbilical cord blood. This is a better source of stem cells as only four out of six matching HLA markers are required.

The film’s only serious omission is its failure to examine the major barrier cost (bone marrow transplantation is an extremely expensive procedure) poses for low income mixed race patients.

The website for the Mixed Match Project is www.mixedmatchproject.com

The film can be viewed free on Kanopy.


*As the bone marrow is the site where stem cells develop into new blood cells, replacing it can bring about full remission of many blood cancers.

About the Film

2 thoughts on “Mixed Match

  1. Leukemia is a type of cancer, Aunty, and like many cancers, it seems to have environmental causes. Recent research suggest that cancer may be triggered by an assault on the gut-based immune system. Aplastic anemia results from damage to bone marrow stem cells, and there are many illnesses and conditions than can cause it. In that sense, it’s not really a genetic condition.

    Liked by 1 person

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