How one little boy’s legacy led to a million lifesaving transplants.
Where it all started
In 1971, Anthony Nolan was born with a rare condition called Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome. The only cure was a bone marrow transplant. But none of his family were a match, and a transplant using bone marrow from an unrelated donor had never succeeded. There was no system to find matching unrelated donors, either.
In 1973, a little boy called Simon Bostic had the first successful unrelated donor transplant This gave Anthony’s mother, Shirley, an idea: to start a bone marrow register to connect unrelated donors with people like her son, who desperately needed a transplant.
In 1974, the Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Register was established in Westminster Children’s Hospital, where Anthony was a patient. Shirley campaigned and fundraised tirelessly to make this happen.
In 1978, we moved to our first official laboratory in St Mary Abbots Hospital, run by Dr James.
The register grew throughout the seventies. Sadly, it couldn’t help Anthony Nolan, who died in 1979, aged eight.
1980s: Growing the register
By 1986, 14 people on our register had donated bone marrow to patients in need. That year, working with the Round Table organisation, we also did a major recruitment push and signed up 100,000 new potential donors in just six weeks.
We hired Simon Dyson as our Chairman in 1987, and we also appointed leading bone marrow transplant specialist Dr John Goldman as our Medical Director.
In 1988, we became a founding member of Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide. Through this organisation, we can search 50 international registers for donors.
1990s: New laboratory and research institute
In 1990, our new laboratory opened to house our 20 staff.
In 1991, the Duchess of Kent became our patron. The same year, we started to build our research institute, to research the best ways to do transplants, so we could save more lives. Research and Scientific Director, Professor Alejandro Madrigal took charge, and it opened in 1996.
In 1994, we provided our 1,000th person with a transplant. And by 1995, our register had grown to 275,000.
In 1996, Beverley De-Gale and Orin Lewis, who needed to find a black or mixed race bone marrow donor for their son Daniel, set up the Afro-Caribbean Leukaemia Trust. This organisation encourages people from black and minority ethnic communities to join the Anthony Nolan register.
In 1998, we provided donors for 300 transplants for the first time in a single year.
2000s: Milestone achievements
In 2000, we provided our 2,500th person with a lifesaving transplant. Our income was more than £10 million for the first time too, and Shirley Nolan was awarded an OBE. We also found 100 bone marrow matches overseas for people in the UK.
Also in 2000, we started gathering stem cells for transplants using peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection – a quicker, easier and less painful method than collecting bone marrow. .
In 2001, to mark our shift from bone marrow to PBSC donation, we changed our name from The Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust to The Anthony Nolan Trust.
Sadly, in the midst of all this growth, Shirley Nolan passed away in 2002 in Australia. Her legacy continued as that same year the register grew to 320,000.
In 2003, our Chairman Simon Dyson was awarded an MBE. Professor Alejandro Madrigal, our Research and Scientific Director, also stepped up to lead AlloStem, a major EU-funded cancer research project, involving 29 partners from 13 countries.
We celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2004. The same year, we provided our 4,000th person with a transplant.
In 2006, our register grew to 380,000 potential donors. The same year, we were Charity of the Year for the Flora London Marathon and easyJet’s Charity of the Year too.
In 2008, we set up the UK’s first dedicated cord blood bank. This allows mothers to safely donate the blood from their umbilical cord and placenta after they give birth. This is rich in stem cells, which we use for lifesaving transplants.
Sadly, the same year, our CEO Dr Steve McEwan passed away. His legacy of hard work and dedication lived on, and in 2009 we provided a record 750 lifesaving stem cell transplants.
In 2009, Henny Braund joined Anthony Nolan as our new CEO.
2010s: A new strategy
In 2010, we made joining our register much easier by asking potential donors to give saliva samples instead of blood. This meant we didn’t need to have healthcare professionals at recruitment events, and could send out ‘spit kits’ in the post – saving time and money.
Also in 2010, we completely re-branded and changed our name to Anthony Nolan. We also secured our largest corporate partnership ever with Wilkinson, valued at £1m.
With the appointment in 2010 of Research and Scientific Director Professor Alejandro Madrigal as President of the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, we maintained our strong scientific presence.
In 2012, the world’s millionth stem cell transplant took place – something that was unimaginable when Shirley started her campaign. The Charity Times also voted us their ‘Charity of the Year’
The same year, we became the first register in the world to start recruiting 16-year-olds. For the first time ever we made 1,000 transplants happen in just one year. And we also became the Virgin Money London Marathon Charity of the Year for 2014.
Today, our register has more than 480,000 potential donors on it. Very soon, we hope to reach half a million.
If you have further enquiries, our team is here to help.