‘Buying British’ can reduce the agonising wait for a stem cell transplant, say experts, as new report warns against overreliance on international donors.
Download the ‘Together for Better’ report here for all the findings
More Britons than ever are being called upon to donate their bone marrow (or blood stem cells), as UK transplant centres are urged by experts to ‘buy British’ rather than importing stem cells from abroad.
Zachary Hughes, 23, is from Leicester. He signed up in September 2011 and donated Easter 2012.
Using British donors can save precious time when a blood cancer patient is urgently waiting for a stem cell transplant, as the much-needed cells don’t need to travel so far.
This can give critically ill people more hope of finding a matching donor in time, by reducing the ‘agonising’ wait for a transplant, according to experts.
New data released today in a joint review between Anthony Nolan and NHS Blood and Transplant reveals that 367 Brits donated their stem cells to UK-based patients in 2013, after being found to be a match for someone with leukaemia or other blood disorders.
Around 82% of those were male donors, and 61% were under 30 years old.
The number of British adults donating to unrelated patients in the UK has increased by 7% since 2012, and is now thought to be at an all-time high.
Ross Kirk, 31, is a physics teacher from Mansfield. He became a stem cell donor in June 2012.
Likewise, lifesaving stem cell transplants from umbilical cord blood are increasingly coming from the UK.
Cord blood is rich in stem cells that can be used for lifesaving transplants in place of bone marrow.
In 2011, the UK accounted for less than 5% of the cords used in UK transplants with the rest being imported, at great expense to the NHS, from overseas public cord banks.
This year, over 25% of UK cord provision will come from the UK.
However, although things are moving in the right direction, most UK patients are still receiving their stem cells from overseas donors - 552 patients (52%) had to look to international adult bone marrow registers in order to find a match last year.
When someone in the UK needs a transplant, a search for a matching donor takes place.
If there is no suitable match on the UK register, transplant centres can search the global network of international registers and import the matching stem cells.
While this option is absolutely crucial as a last resort, it is preferable to find a donor from within the UK if possible, as this can speed up the process of getting the stem cells to a patient who is in desperate need, as well as offering better value to the NHS and the taxpayer.
Lynda Hamlyn CBE, Chief Executive of NHS Blood and Transplant explained: ‘Often a stem cell transplant is a blood cancer patient’s last chance of survival, and every day counts when someone is waiting for a match.
'The agonising wait for a transplant can be reduced if hospitals are able to "buy British", rather than finding a match on an international bone marrow register.
'We want to help them do that by widening the pool of British donors so that it’s easier to find a match from within the UK.’
Victoria Rathmill, from Macclesfield, is the world’s youngest stem cell donor at 17. Having signed up aged 16, she donated in November 2013.
Here at Anthony Nolan, we manage the UK bone marrow register, which we search to find matching stem cell donors for blood cancer patients.
This is known as the ‘Anthony Nolan & NHS Stem Cell Registry’, and is aligned with the NHS British Bone Marrow Registry and the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry.
These various UK bone marrow registers became fully aligned in September 2013; a partnership that offers the potential to save many more lives in the future by speeding up the search for donors.
We're now working closely with NHS Blood and Transplant to recruit more black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) donors to the aligned Registry, reducing the need to spend time searching for overseas donors.
Donor Andrew Parry, 23, is at RAF Brize Norton. He signed up in July 2011.
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, explained: ‘International donors can be a lifeline for people from ethnic minority communities, as BAME donors are worryingly under-represented on the UK Registry.
'But rather than relying too heavily on the international market, we must try to diversify our own Registry to give black and minority ethnic patients in need the very best chance of survival, by speeding up their journey to a transplant.
'We should also focus our efforts on signing up more young men to the UK Registry, as this latest data shows that they’re significantly more likely to go onto donate.’
Download the ‘Together for Better’ report here for all the findings, and to read the case studies of all four donors highlighted in this article.