A student volunteering network around the UK has launched a campaign to recruit ethnic minority students to the stem cell register. The student-led ‘Tackling Inequalities’ campaign has been launched in response to a worldwide appeal from student Lara Casalotti, who is struggling to find a donor because she is mixed race.
Currently only 1 in 5 transplant patients from an ethnic minority or mixed race background will find a ‘perfect match’.
The week long recruitment campaign will see the student volunteering groups, known as ‘Marrow’ groups, recruit young donors from mixed race and ethnic minority backgrounds to the Anthony Nolan register. The groups will set up ‘spit kit’ clinics in their respective universities, focusing on locations and societies with access to diverse ethnic groups.
Charlotte Connolly, National Marrow Manager at Anthony Nolan, explained: ‘The closer the tissue match, the better the chances for the patient, and you’re most likely to find your match from someone in the same ethnic group.
'Because there are tens of thousands of different tissue types out there, it means the odds are stacked against you if you’re mixed race, as the pool of potential donors is so much smaller. Students can help us grow and diversify the registers so that people in Lara’s position do not have to overcome the odds to find a match.’
Lara Casalotti is a 24-year old student from Hampstead, who was recently diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, an aggressive blood cancer. In December, Lara’s family was told her best chance of survival is a stem cell transplant to save her life.
Anthony Nolan is now searching the world’s registers for a match for Lara. Meanwhile, her friends and family have launched the viral ‘Match4Lara’ appeal, which has seen a staggering 10,000 people join the register in just three weeks. Half of these have been people from ethnic minority and mixed race backgrounds.
Her campaign has received support from Prime Minister David Cameron and celebrities including JK Rowling, Stephen Fry and Gareth Bale.
As Lara is half Chinese-Thai and half-Italian it makes it much harder for her to find a perfect match. Currently only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best match. This drops dramatically to around 20% if you're from a Black, Asian or ethnic minority background, simply due to the lack of donors from these backgrounds.
Charlotte Connolly added, ‘It’s great to see students rallying for Lara and celebrating and utilising the diversity in our universities, working with their fellow students and societies to help save lives.
‘It’s amazing to think that, just by being themselves, these students could be the key for curing blood cancer for so many mixed race and ethnic people like Lara, who are desperately waiting for a match.’
Seb Casalotti, Lara’s brother and current Cambridge University medical student, said: ‘It means the world to me and my family to see all these students across the country working so hard to recruit more potential lifesavers, not just for my sister but for everyone who needs a transplant.
‘I would say to anyone thinking of signing up to just do it. It’s so easy, all you have to do is fill out a form and spit in a tube. If you are a match, it’s just like giving blood and so it doesn’t impact on you but it has an incredible impact on families like mine.