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Gay Men Win Stem Cell Fight

Gay Men Win Stem Cell Fight

The Canadian Blood Service in October began allowing men who have sex with men to join its pool of potential stem cell donors. Previously, gay and bisexual men would have been disqualified from the 250,000-person pool, just as they are from donating blood.

Advocates for gay blood donation say they hope the move will pave the way for changing how all blood and blood product donations are handled.

"We no longer have the justification to exclude an entire subset of the population based on the myth that by somehow excluding [gay men] we eliminate the chance of HIV transmission in the blood supply," says Lorne Neudorf, who has started the process of enrolling in the network of potential stem cell donors.

Neudorf, who filed a human rights complaint with the Canadian Blood Service after being rejected for blood donation in 2006, argues that lab screening is so advanced that sexual orientation should not automatically be a disqualifier for donating blood.

Jennifer Philippe, director of CBS's OneMatch Stem Cell and Marrow Network, says Health Canada updated the guidelines in 2008. Prior to that, the CBS's only option was to subject stem-cell donation to the same rules that govern blood donation. The new guidelines apply to cells, tissue, and organs, but not blood or blood products.

According to Philippe, about 100 gay or bisexual men who previously would have been rejected have now registered with the network.

"What other registries are doing -- by defaulting and not allowing these valuable donors to join -- is really limiting the options available to the patient," she says.

Though no screening offers 100% assurance of ruling out HIV or other infectious diseases, the CBS does "testing that is down to the RNA level, so detection of a virus is very, very good," says Philippe.

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