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Columbia University grad student donates mononuclear cells for medical research

Apr 07, 2023 by Gift of Life Donor Story

After seeing a friend’s post on Instagram about Gift of Life Marrow Registry in January 2019, Maria went to the organization’s website and requested a swab kit to be sent to her apartment. She swabbed her cheeks and returned the kit to Gift of Life, where it was processed and she was added to the registry .

“I believe there are various ways to help others and volunteer,” said Maria. “I didn’t hesitate to do this as I knew that, if one day I was ever called, I could potentially save a life.” 

In June 2022, that call came, but this time it was for an opportunity to donate cells for medical research. Some of the most exciting research going on today is in cellular therapies, with many organizations working to develop advanced treatments for cancer and other life-threatening diseases. 

This research often begins with a cell donor whose specific tissue type is needed for the development of a particular medication. Mononuclear cells (MNC) are often requested for this purpose as they represent a variety of cell types. Donors who give cells for medical research still remain active in the registry, and may be matched with a patient in the future, or be requested for addiitonal research donations. 

Gift of Life arranged for Maria, 29, to travel to South Florida for her donation. On the day of collection, a car service brought her from the hotel to the Adelson Collection Center in Boca Raton, Fla.

“When we arrived at the facility, I was blown away by how nice it was,” said Maria. “My nerves regarding needles and the donation process were quickly overcome by how friendly and informative everyone was. The collection center was also stocked with plenty of snacks and drinks for me.” 

“During the donation I watched several episodes of a show and ended up watching a movie, all very peaceful to keep me relaxed,” she said. “The donation process went by so fast. My nurse was incredible and the staff was in high spirits which made me feel happy and calm during the entire thing.” 

After her MNC collection, Maria recovered quickly. 

“I took a very long nap after donating and was essentially back to normal,” said Maria. “I was a little tired and low energy that day, but after a big meal and sleep, by the next morning I felt 100%.”

When asked about donating for research, Maria can only think of the people she will be helping.  

“I’ve always found ways to volunteer and give back to my community,” said Maria. “While I donated for cancer research and not a direct donation to one patient, I know that my donation will go on to help research that can ultimately find life-saving measures for many patients. It was something so small I could do to help the greater world and stretch beyond my own community. I hope that by donating I can help inspire others to sign up for the registry or say yes if they get the call.”

Maria, 29, is a graduate student at Columbia University and works at the Columbia Business School. She is a alumna of George Washington University where she was a member of the Epsilon Sigma Alpha community service sorority. She spends much of her time exploring New York City with her dog, Frankie, and her passion is world travel – she has visited more than 35 countries and plans to visit many more. 

Maria's swab kit was sponsored by the In Honor of Wendy Siegel Donor Circle.