Bone Marrow and Jewish Genetics

Bone marrow contains stem cells, the cells that produce blood. A bone marrow transplant from a healthy donor can enable a person with diseased bone marrow to begin producing blood cells.


Bone marrow transplants are used as therapy for about 100 different illnesses, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, diseases of the blood, and enzyme deficiencies. These diseases destroy bone marrow, which contains the stem cells responsible for manufacturing blood cells. Chemotherapy and radiation, the most common methods of destroying cancerous cells, also destroy healthy bone marrow cells. For people with diseased or damaged bone marrow, a transplant from a genetically compatible donor is often the only hope for recovery.

Transplant recipients must be nearly identical matches with their donors for tissue-type markers known as HLA proteins. Although close family members offer the best chance of an HLA match, only 30% of patients find matches within their families. Because the number of possible HLA combinations is incredibly vast, the likelihood of two unrelated individuals matching each other is very low. Bone marrow transplant from unrelated yet HLA-matched donors is possible due to the existence of large computerized international registries of potential bone marrow donors.

Chances for a match increase significantly if the patient and potential donor share the same ethnic background. Because Jews in the past lived in isolated communities, they are today more genetically related to each other than to non-Jews. There are over 10 million potential donors registered in the International Bone Marrow Registry (BMDW) based in Holland, but only a very small percentage are of Jewish descent.

Ezer Mizion established its registry in 1998 to increase the pool of Jewish potential donors. Israel, home to an entire spectrum of Jewish communities and ethnic backgrounds, is the natural location for a Jewish bone marrow registry.

To expand its registry, Ezer Mizion conducts periodic bone marrow drivess. Today, the Ezer Mizion Bone Marrow Donor Registry is the largest Jewish registry in the world. Because Jewish patients generally require Jewish bone marrow donors, the registry is a vital resource for thousands of sick Jews and serves an insurance policy for Jews everywhere.