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Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center
“Unsparing of his person and possessions,
he gave all, his head, eyes, and brain, to people as alms.”
~the Sutra of Innumerable Meanings~

Breakthrough-enabling a ray of light to illuminate the land

The American Dr. Edward Thomas performed the first publicized case of successful bone marrow transplant operation in human history in 1958. At that time, a patient afflicted with leukemia through a transplant received the marrow donated by his twin brother bone. His condition improved immediately. This case proved that even a patient in the terminal stage of leukemia, if given bone marrow of matching immunogenetics, the patient’s condition can improve, and even have the hope of recovering from the deadly disease.

It is the pain of losing one’s family to death’s grip that impels people to find ways to conquer terminal illness. But it was a patient’s unbending will to live that helped to find the key to a new term on life for countless people. In 1992, Ms. Wen Wen-ling, a student from Taiwan studying abroad in United States, came down with leukemia but was unable to find a match for marrow from databanks in the U.S. or Japan. Helpless, she decided to return to Taiwan to push for a change in legislation to allow for non-relative bone marrow transplants, hoping to find a chance for survival for herself as well as other Chinese leukemia patients overseas. In January 1993, she endured her physical pain and traveled to Hualien to visit Dharma Master Cheng Yen. During the meeting, she pleaded sincerely for Tzu Chi to help leukemia patients by initiating a databank on bone marrow donors in Taiwan. In May of the same year, Legislative Yuan approved the revision on the Organ Transplant Statute. The Statute repealed the third-grade relative restriction on bone marrow donations. Then the Health Department convened a special meeting on the setting up of a bone marrow donor databank, and entrusted Tzu Chi with the responsibility of establishment and operation of Taiwan’s bone marrow donor databank. After Dharma Master Cheng Yen got final assurance that saving lives through marrow transplantation presented no risk to the donor’s health, Tzu Chi formally founded the databank on marrow donors in October of 1993. Meanwhile, Tzu Chi volunteers all across the country launched a drive to hold marrow donor sign-up and donor blood testing.

Giving care to recipients and donors

In promoting bone marrow donation, Dharma Master Cheng Yen further assured the public of the safeness of marrow donation, emphasizing that she would never put a donor’s health at risk in order to save the life of a patient. Embraced with the compassionate conviction to save lives, tens of thousand of Tzu Chi volunteers took up the burdensome responsibility of making bone marrow donation a reality by promoting the idea in every community. However, volunteers also had to overcome the traditional taboos and misinformation about the risks of marrow donation prevalent in those days, which made it more difficult to promote marrow donation. But with the collective effort by Tzu Chi’s Stem Cells Center and the volunteers, Taiwan successfully performed the first case of non-relative bone marrow transplant in may of 1994.

In 1997, the Center established its Human Leukocyte Antigen Testing Laboratory, and was later renamed the Immunogenetics Laboratory, which enabled related testing to be done domestically that previously needed to be done abroad, as well as increased the accuracy rates for bone marrow matches dramatically. As related medical advances progressed rapidly, Tzu Chi volunteers’ spirit for total care of donors and patients remained steadfast. To allow donors to remain in the best state of body and mind, so as to help recipients have the greatest probability for survival, Tzu Chi volunteers in the Center’s Marrow Donation Care Team composed of certified Tzu Chi Commissioners and Tzu Cheng members will give donors uninterrupted care and support throughout the entire process, starting from when the successful match is made. Occasionally, volunteers in the Care Team encounter matched donors who changed their mind, or some members of the donor’s family object to the donation. But with indefatigable patience and perseverance, volunteers were almost always able to bring the matched donor to complete the transplant and the mission to save a life ardently. Such painstaking care is the most special characteristic that sets Tzu Chi’s bone marrow donation apart from all others, where not only the recipient receives abundant care, but the donor also receives the deserved care and respect.

Introducing advanced technology to help lives around the world

Since its inception in 1993, the Center has devoted itself to research and development in Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) testing, keeping in pace with world standards by introducing the latest in hematopoietic stem cells transplant technology. In January of 2002, the Center began its cord blood collection operation, and with organizational revamping, was formally renamed the Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center on April 30th 2002. There are five divisions in the Center including the Immunogenetics Laboratory, Cord Blood Bank, Clinical Medical and Research, Donation Activities and Marrow Donation Care Teams, as well as Databank and Administration. The Center is a nonprofit unit that promotes bone marrow and cord blood donation. The Health Department of Taiwan approved the non-relatives peripheral blood transplant and categorized it as a regular medical treatment. The Center aggressively introduces relevant technologies, and successfully performed the first non-relative peripheral blood transplant in August 2003.

After that, bone marrow, peripheral blood and cord blood donation became the three life-saving operations of the Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center. In November 2005, Tzu Chi and the international online marrow and cord blood matching organization BMDW(Bone Marrow Donor Worldwide) together celebrated the reaching of 10 million donor on the online marrow donor databank. As of 2007, the number of donor data uploaded by the Center was over 300 thousand people, that means 3 out of every 100 donors in the online databank is from Taiwan.

In 2005, Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center completed the 1000th case of stem cells donation. In November 2007, the Center achieved the 1000th case of stem cells from donations to overseas. In cord blood, the center collected 23,088 bags of cord blood from the births of newborns and initially selected 11,006 bags for storage. The 330 thousand units of blood data and cord blood are a precious resource for Taiwan in preserving its own citizens’ lives, as well as for compassionate sharing with those in need all around the world. As gatekeepers of this vault of compassion, the Tzu Chi Stem Cells Center will devote itself to advancing the related technology to bring about the greatest efficacy for every donor’s love, and continue to promote this life-saving mission, so as to let this pure stream of compassionate love from Taiwan flow around the world to inspire more selfless love endlessly.

Update: Oct. 2009