Appeal for more young male and ethnic minority group stem cell donors

Young men and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds are being urged to register and make sure all patients in need of a stem cell transplant can find a potentially lifesaving match

New figures released this week by blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan reveal that more than 20,000 Scots registered to become stem cell donors in 2017, bringing the total number of people from the country to 104,974.

But the annual review of the combined UK Anthony Nolan and NHS Stem Cell Registry,  which is made up of donors recruited by NHS Blood and Transplant, the Welsh Blood Service, DKMS and Anthony Nolan, shows that while the UK stem cell register now stands at 1.4 million, young men are significantly under represented on the register. Therefore, the UK donor registers are urging young men, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to register and make sure all patients in need of a stem cell transplant can find a potentially lifesaving match.

If a patient has a condition that affects their bone marrow or blood, then a stem cell transplant may be their best chance of survival. Doctors will give new, healthy stem cells to the patient via their bloodstream, where they begin to grow and create healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.

According to Anthony Nolan, more than 2,200 searches for a lifesaving transplant were made in 2017 with 82% of people who donated stem cells or bone marrow men, and 57 per cent men aged under 30. Men under 30 make up just 12% of the UK stem cell register.

Marginally fewer donors from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds joined the UK stem cell register in 2017 (23,947 vs 24,383 in 2016). Donors from minority ethnic backgrounds make up just 14% of the UK stem cell register (the remainder are 85% northern European, 1% unknown/prefer not to say). The result is that patients from black, Asian or other minority backgrounds have a 20% chance of finding the best possible stem cell donor match, compared to 69% for northern European backgrounds.

Anthony Nolan chief executive Henny Braund said: “Despite a pleasing increase in the number of young men joining the stem cell donor register, the fact remains that 12% of the register provides 57% of all stem cell donations. We have had great success working with schools, colleges and universities across the UK through our Marrow and The Hero Project programmes – and will continue to focus our efforts in this area to meet our ambitious target of recruiting 100,000 potential donors a year by 2020, of whom 20,000 are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

“Anthony Nolan is delighted to work in partnership with NHS Blood and Transplant, the Welsh Blood Service and DKMS and will continue to work collaboratively to meet our shared vision of finding a match for every patient in need of a stem cell transplant.”

Guy Parkes, head of Stem Cell Donation & Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said: “The cord blood bank continues to help us serve the black and Asian communities, who struggle to find a matching donor from the adult registry.

“We are pleased that our efforts to target and grow the number of black and Asian donors has been delivering results, and we look forward to continuing this life saving work with our partner registries.”

Stephan Schumacher, CEO of DKMS, said: “We are pleased to see the registry grow again in 2017, and proud of DKMS’ significant contribution to this success.

“Our goal as a charity has always been to provide a second chance at life to as many patients as possible. This is why we register people up to the age of 55, and focus on increasing the pool of donors so that patients – especially those with rare tissue types – have the best possible chance of finding their potential lifesaver.”

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Lynda Hamilton Parker is a Scottish PR expert and independent publisher

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