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Rubius Therapeutics oncology scientist donates blood stem cells to save woman’s life

Sep 22, 2021 by Gift of Life Donor Story

When Arjun’s workplace, Rubius Therapeutics, held a donor recruitment drive at their offices in April 2018, he thought it would be a great opportunity to step forward and help others. As a scientist who has worked in the oncology program, joining the registry offered another way to cure cancers he was studying.  He completed his swab kit and joined Gift of Life’s registry on the spot. 

In addition to his understanding as a scientist, Arjun also had personal reasons for joining Gift of Life. “I have an immediate family member who is a cancer survivor,” he said. “I know what it means to go through a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment, and how helpless a patient and family members feel with the diagnosis. When I had the chance to give hope to someone else, I was more than happy to do it.” 

Just over three years later, in May 2021, Arjun, who is 33 and a resident of the Boston area, learned he was a match for a woman in her late 60s battling an acute form of leukemia. 

“I received a voice mail from Gift of Life while I was at work,” said Arjun. “I was pleasantly surprised that I was, indeed, a match for someone. I shared the news immediately with my wife, Sneha, and we were both curious to know more about what it meant.” 

“My friends were proud of me and wanted to know how I joined the registry, what they could do to join Gift of Life themselves,” said Arjun. “They – and my parents – also wanted to know what the process actually involved.” 

The process is straightforward: Arjun’s healthy blood stem cells would be collected and transported to the patient he matched. His healthy cells would replace hers, give her a new immune system and ultimately a second chance at life.  

Arjun donated at a collection center in New York City, accompanied by his wife.

“I got time off to travel to New York and my company [Rubius] and colleagues were very encouraging,” he said. “My team made a personalized greeting card along with a gift card for dinner in the city.” 

The donation process went very smoothly. Arjun spent most of the time talking with Sneha, and watching a movie. He also thought of his recipient and the magnitude of the action he was taking to help her and hopes to meet her someday.  

“Donation was a personal thing for me, my way of giving back to society,” said Arjun, “Once it was done and I started to talk about donation and saw people’s reactions. I was inspired to share my story and encourage others to sign up for the donor registry. You get support from Gift of Life every step of the process, even after donating.” 

Because matches are typically found between people who share the same ethnicity, it is likely that Arjun’s transplant recipient is also of South Asian ancestry. Because the worldwide donor database does not yet reflect the ethnic diversity of humanity, donors of diverse ethnicities are urgently needed. 

“Registering does not take much, just a cheek swab and then you forget about it,” said Arjun. “If you are lucky and are a match for a patient, you have absolute control over every step, as the whole process is voluntary. I am very happy to have made the donation.”  

Rubius Therapeutics has been a steadfast supporter of Gift of Life, sponsoring events like Steps for Life 5k Run and Walk in Boston as well as offering their staff opportunities to join the registry. On September 29, the company is publicly recognizing Arjun with its Ruby Community Award. 

Arjun is married to his wife Sneha and works as an Associate Scientist at Rubius Therapeutics. He is a graduate of Northeastern University. In his free time he enjoys cooking, kayaking and hiking.