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Being the Match, Saving a Life

Before she became a scientist, Nadia Trejo stepped up to donate her stem cells to a 1-year-old child in need.

CSL Behring Pasadena scientist Nadia Trejo holds a bag of donated stem cells
CSL Behring Associate Scientist Nadia Trejo on the day five years ago that she donated stem cells through Be the Match.

While in her senior year at University of South Florida, Nadia Trejo approached a table staffed by Be The Match, an organization seeking bone marrow donors. She had no idea that this was her first step toward saving the life of a child.  

At the time, Trejo was studying cellular and molecular biology. Now she’s an Associate Scientist for CSL Behring in Pasadena, California, and recently celebrated the five-year anniversary of her donation.

“I figured I was healthy and able, so I had no reason not to sign up,” she said. “It wasn’t until I got the initial notification about being a potential match for a patient when I realized this was something serious.”

She never met the 1-year-old who received her donation. Trejo describes the process as emotional and surreal.

“I was given the opportunity to help save a life directly by literally giving someone my immune system,” she said. “My patient had a disease that is only cured by a stem cell transplant. Finding a suitable donor is a challenge. There are some amazing statistics on the Be the Match website that say 70 percent of patients needing a transplant don’t have a fully-matched donor in their family, which is why they turn to the registry.”

Trejo feels that urgency in the work she does today for CSL Behring, she said. She has studied many diseases in bone marrow samples that can only be cured through stem cell transplant.

“It came full circle when I started working in a flow cytometry lab where I saw bone marrow procedures being performed and it was my job was to test the sample for diseases,” she said.

Trejo donated her stem cells through a non-surgical process known as peripheral blood stem cell donation. It’s a non-invasive procedure that starts with the donor getting an injection of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor (GCSF). GCSF stimulates the bone marrow to start producing stem cells so that they enter the peripheral blood, which is the blood that circulates throughout the body. Blood is then collected from the donor in order to harvest these stem cells.

“Now I work with samples that come from donors stimulated with GCSF, like I was,” she said. “And we are working toward developing life-saving gene therapy treatments for patients with rare and serious diseases, just like the patient I donated to had.”

She experienced some aches and pains due to the GCSF shot, but said the process of donating was not painful.

“For the donation itself, it was like donating blood,” Trejo said. She urges others to consider registering as a potential donor.

“If Be The Match hadn’t stopped me to ask to join the registry, then I probably would have never signed up on my own,” Trejo said. “I hope I can bring awareness to get others to sign up because matches do happen, and it matters.”