When a person has blood cancer, doctors use chemotherapy and radiotherapy to destroy the disease. It’s effective but leaves their immune system very weak and fragile. By giving them a stem cell transplant, we can boost the number of healthy cells to kick start their immune system. But timing is critical: the donor’s stem cells must be available as soon as the treatment has finished.
The hospital starts by testing the person’s family as there’s a 30% chance of finding a sibling match. If they don’t find a match, they come to us and we start searching our donor register. We have over 400,000 people on our register but because we match people by tissue type rather than blood groups, we don’t always find a match. As opposed to a few different blood types, there are millions of different types of cell tissue. The success of a patient’s transplant depends on finding a match, otherwise their body will reject it.
So it’s simple. The more people we have on the register, the more matches we can find and the more lives we can save.