More than 10,000 people have joined the Anthony Nolan register in three weeks, thanks to the Match4Lara campaign, which has become one of the biggest drives the charity has ever seen.
Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan revealed this ‘unprecedented surge’ represents a 400% increase compared to the number of donors who signed up during the same 3-week period last year.
Nearly half of these new donors are from black, Asian, ethnic minority or mixed race backgrounds – the highest proportion ever seen by Anthony Nolan in a predominantly online campaign.
The charity believes this huge increase in donors coming forward, especially those from a BAME background, is down to the ‘Lara effect’.
Lara, on holiday before her diagnosis
Due to Lara’s Thai-Italian heritage, she faces a “needle in a haystack” search - only three per cent of the worldwide donor register are mixed race.
A series of ‘spit drives’ held over the weekend attracted a huge turnout, as young people rallied behind Lara Casalotti’s worldwide search for a stem cell donor.
Hundreds of people have signed up at university ‘Marrow’ events in Cambridge, University of East London, Imperial, Oxford and Bristol, and at a public event at the O2 Centre in North London.
Prime Minister David Cameron expressed his support for the Match4Lara appeal last week and said that he would “certainly” back the campaign to find her a donor, which has already enlisted the support of J. K. Rowling, Stephen Fry, Gareth Bale, fashion photographer Mario Testino and actor Mark Wahlberg.
Lara said: “I can't thank everyone enough for all the incredible support over the past several weeks. It has really helped keep my spirits up. Thank you to all my friends who have volunteered at the spit drives and thank you to everyone of you who have signed up to the donor registries.”
After finding out that her only brother Seb was not a match, Lara's family launched a campaign to encourage more ethnic minority and mixed-race people to sign up to the Anthony Nolan register.
"We're trying to find a needle in a haystack and need all the help we can get," said Lara's mother, Supanya, 53.
The hunt for a suitable donor for Lara has sparked one of the biggest ever global campaigns of its kind, Anthony Nolan said.
Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan, said:
“It’s so inspiring to see the scale of the support for the Match4Lara appeal, from friends, family and strangers both in the UK and around the world.
“On our register alone, we’ve now had more than 10,000 people sign up in just three weeks – which is almost unheard of. This doesn’t even include all those who have signed up in countries as far and wide as America, Thailand, China and Italy because of Lara’s appeal.
“The enormous response we’ve seen across the world is a testament to Lara and all those who she has inspired to take action and save lives. But like many others, Lara is still waiting for news that a match has been found and it’s vital that more people sign up.
“People who take a few minutes out of their day to spit into a tube will be added to the Anthony Nolan register and could one day be a match as a stem cell donor for someone like Lara, giving someone a second chance of life. It’s amazing to think of the life-changing journey that such a simple act could start.”
Lara, who is studying for a masters in global migration at UCL, thought she had pulled a muscle in her back and noticed she was getting out of breath on short runs in early December.
Not realising anything was seriously wrong, she flew out to Thailand during her university Christmas break, to assist an Oxford professor with research about conditions for domestic migrant workers. After experiencing more symptoms, her aunt insisted Lara saw a doctor. She was given a blood test and, to everyone’s immense shock, discovered she had an aggressive form of leukaemia.
Doctors have since advised Lara’s best option is a stem cell transplant. Anthony Nolan is now searching the world’s combined registries for someone whose tissue type matches Lara's.