Monday, November 4, 2013

Nalini Ambady, RIP

Stanford psychology professor Nalini Ambady passed away after a long search for a matching bone marrow donor:
Nalini Ambady, Stanford psychology professor, dies at 54
"A distinguished social psychologist, Ambady was well known for her research that showed that people can form accurate first impressions about others based only on seconds-long observations of their nonverbal behavior."

"Nalini Ambady, a Stanford professor of psychology, died Oct. 28 after a long battle with leukemia. Her passing followed a yearlong, worldwide effort by family, friends and students to find a bone marrow donor match."

Professor Ambady's students and friends organized an active campaign to help her find a bone marrow donor, which you can follow here:

Here's a story from New Delhi TV (NDTV) that in passing emphasizes how the inability to compensate donors can make the search tragically difficult (emphasis added): Professor Nalini Ambady's death highlights lack of awareness on bone marrow transplants in India

"Because of genetic markers, a person is likely to find a match from one's own ethnic gene pool. In Ms Ambady's case her match would most likely have been from someone from her birthplace - Kerala.

"For the past six months, the Ambady family has been carrying out drives in India to encourage people to sign up for the bone marrow registry in the hopes of finding her a potential match.

"But in a country of 1.2 billion, only about 45,000 people have signed up to be bone-marrow donors. In comparison, there are over 10 million donors on the United States' National Marrow Donor Program.

"This is despite the fact that becoming a bone marrow donor is simple. All it takes is a swab test-rubbing an ear bud on the inside of one's cheek. An actual transplant is as painless as donating blood. Still, because of ignorance, lack of awareness, cultural taboos or psychological fears Indian's don't sign up to become donors.

"Ms Ambady found at least six potential matches from India. But they all dropped out. According to a childhood friend Ann Ninan, "It was heart breaking for the family."

"Ms Ambadi's family will not be able to celebrate this Diwali with her but during this festive season let's all sign up as donors. It's a few minutes of your time but it could save someone's life."

My colleague Muriel Niederle, who took a class from Professor Ambady at Harvard, reflects on her passing here.

See some of my other posts on bone marrow donation, and the ongoing political/legislative/legal disputes concerning whether bone marrow donors can be compensated, or whether this should be forbidden as a repugnant transaction. (Long story short: The conventional interpretation that paying bone marrow donors was outlawed by the National Organ Transplant Act was upset by a decision of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but the Department of Health and Human Services is taking steps to change the relevant regulations so that it will continue to be illegal despite the court ruling.)

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