Blood cancer patients can rely on young people, new study shows

July 25, 2023

Newly published research from blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has shown that the youngest stem cell donors are as reliable as older stem cell donors, supporting Anthony Nolan’s decision to lower the minimum donor registration age for the stem cell register.  

The paper, titled Favourable recovery profiles and good reliability among youngest unrelated stem cell donors supports lowering the minimum donor registration age, was published in the Journal of Clinical Apheresis on 23rd June 2023, detailing a retrospective study reviewing the reliability and recovery times of unrelated donors from all age groups between April 2015 to October 2017. 

In 2012, Anthony Nolan became the world’s first stem cell register to lower the minimum registration age for unrelated donors to 16 years old, after research showed that transplants from younger donors have improved outcomes  for patients (backed up by confirmatory research in 2018). Since introducing the lower minimum age, Anthony Nolan has seen the average donor age at donation fall from 32 years (2012) to 27 years (2022). 92.3% of donations from Anthony Nolan donors in 2022 were from donors aged 35 years or younger. 

The new research shows that the youngest donors (aged 16 to 30) were just as reliable as older donors (aged 31 to 60). Cancellations of donations at the medical stage were in fact lowest for young donors, and highest for older donors. Younger donors had quick turnaround times from first contact to the time of donation.  

The youngest donors also had favourable recovery profiles, with the study showing prompt physical and emotional recovery from both peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC) and bone marrow donation (BM). Young donors were significantly more likely to report complete physical recovery at one-week post-donation than older donors, and experienced less pain and fewer side effects. 

Dr Angharad Pryce, one of the paper’s authors and Senior Medical Officer at Anthony Nolan, said: “Younger age is now recognised as the most important non-genetic donor characteristic for stem cell transplants. There may be some concerns around how reliable young people can be as donors, so that was why this study was so important.  

“For other stem cell registers potentially thinking about lowering their minimum registration age, Anthony Nolan has demonstrated that this is more than possible.  I’m proud to have been a part of this work and look forward to continuing to improve outcomes for patients with further studies.” 
Dr Diana Hernandez, Head of Translational Immunotherapy at Anthony Nolan, said: “It’s clear from our work that young people have the necessary maturity to grasp the urgency and importance of stem cell donation. They understand the serious nature of stem cell transplants, and the tremendous impact they have on the lives of blood cancer patients and their families. 

“Anthony Nolan is a research-led charity. We want to make sure that every decision we make for our patients is backed-up by scientific findings. I commend our researchers for carrying out this essential work.”