How to advance equity in the stem cell pool.

Lauren Sano

President, Western Stem Cell Club | BA'23, Western University
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Lauren Sano is working to bring equity to the stem cell registry, after its lack of diversity altered her family’s life.

Lauren’s dad, Mark, died on October 13, 2020.  He was 52, and had endured a rare blood cancer called mixed phenotype acute leukemia. She was devastated.  

“I was close with both my parents, but I had a very special relationship with my father,” she says. “We did a lot of things together. We played tennis, we skied and loved sports. He was young at heart, kind to everyone around him and had an infectious smile that lit up any room he walked into.”  

Lauren and the Sano family fought hard for Mark after he was diagnosed in 2018. His medical team told the family a stem cell transplant would be his best chance. But there was a problem.

Mark was of Japanese ancestry. The ideal transplant would use stem cells from someone who is also fully Japanese. No one else in the immediate family was. Following a search of international and Canadian stem cell registries, they found only one per cent of stem cell donors were from the Japanese population.  

“There is a disparity gap in the stem cell registry, so the chances were very slim. And when they couldn’t find a donor, they resorted to me.”  

By using her stem cells, Mark lived almost another two years.  Lauren grieved, of course. During that period, she started at Western, where she joined the Western Stem Cell Club.  

“Knowing my dad couldn't find a match showed me there was a big problem. Bigger than something I could solve alone. I joined the Western Stem Cell Club, which allowed me to contribute to diversifying the stem cell registry.”

Lauren

ʼs
Impact
Principles

  • Helping others can be a path to personal healing.
  • Small steps by many individuals lead to large-scale impact.
  • Difficult moments in life are hard – they are also an opportunity to grow.

Lauren worked with the club to launch stem cell drives and educate people on the need for stem cells from donors with a variety of ethnic backgrounds. “The response has been incredible. We've had a large body of students joining our club and helping out with these drives. We have volunteers from across the university and from the London community.”

Lauren’s involvement with the stem cell registries has given her a meaningful way to heal from the loss of her father and make positive change.  

“You feel like you're making an impact on people who need help. It’s not just something you do so you can write it down on your resume. You actually feel like you're making a difference.”

Lauren has amplified her advocacy for stem cell equity through work with the media, and even a TEDx Talk at Western. She is using her voice and platform to share knowledge about the importance of diversifying the registry. And she encourages everyone to donate their stem cells.  

“It's important that everyone do this.  Regardless of your race or ethnicity, you have the potential to save someone’s life.”

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