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Students Saving Lives: The Next Generation of Stem Cells

The patient search for a life-saving stem cell donor may begin with family members, but the vast majority must rely on unrelated volunteer donors from the global stem cell registry. Finding someone with the same ethnic ancestry is challenging, particularly since the global registry is predominantly Caucasian (70 per cent).

Student participating in the program mailing her swab in.

“A patient’s best chance of finding a matching donor is among those who share their ethnic background. We need donors from as many diverse ethnic and mixed-race backgrounds as possible,” says Canadian Blood Services (CBS).

A new community service opportunity in Canada – Students Saving Lives – aims to transform and diversify the stem cell landscape by engaging today’s diverse youth in public and private secondary schools throughout the country.

To participate, students in Grades 9-12 watch a series of eight stem cell education awareness videos in exchange for community service hours to be counted towards their secondary school diploma. Students who are over 17 years old may join the official Canadian stem cell registry (open to those aged 17-35) for additional hours.

Kelly & Hillary McKibbin

Mandated by education ministries and school boards, these volunteer community service hours enhance a student’s sense of civic responsibility as they prepare for graduation.

“Students Saving Lives is a golden opportunity to educate today’s diverse youth about the power of stem cells,” says Kelly McKibbin, creator of the program, and parent/caregiver of a patient in waiting. “The students in our community schools have the power to literally transform Canada’s lifeline by offering their youth and diversity to something which is proven to save lives.”

Thousands of students have participated and accumulated hours through this initiative which began in 2021 and hundreds have joined the registry. McKibbin is working to ensure Students Saving Lives is an annual rite of passage for young adults across Canada. 

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