Over 100,000 potential stem cell donors have been recruited at universities across the country by student volunteer groups since 1997, blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan has revealed.
In the last two years, student donors who signed up at university have given 219 strangers in desperate need of a stem cell transplant the chance of life. This represents an incredible 27% of the 808 unrelated stem cell donations that have occurred in UK since 2014, proving that universities play a fundamental role in saving the lives of people with blood cancer and blood disorders.
Young people are the most likely to be chosen to donate their stem cells as they are less likely to have long-term health problems which might delay or prevent donation.
Anthony Nolan’s network of student volunteer groups, collectively known as Marrow, have now set the ambitious target of recruiting 100,000 more potential lifesavers onto the donor register over the next five years.
Charlotte Cunliffe, Marrow Programme Lead at Anthony Nolan, says, ‘It’s hard to put into words just how amazing our Marrow volunteers are – they are responsible for saving the lives of countless people, and they are truly the unsung heroes helping to cure blood cancer and blood disorders.
‘The fact that these selfless students now have recruited over 100,000 potential lifesavers onto the stem cell register is nothing short of incredible, and the statistics show that they are responsible for over a quarter of the potentially lifesaving transplants we provide as a charity.
‘We’re totally behind our amazing Marrow groups to achieve their ambitious aim of recruiting 100,000 more lifesavers in the next five years. We owe a massive thanks to all of the wonderful volunteers who tirelessly campaign and fundraise, and spread the word about how easy and important it is for people to sign up to potentially donate their stem cells to those in desperate need.’
Since its formation in 1997, more than 50 universities have set up their own Marrow society. Marrow groups have recruited over 100,000 potential donors and 933 of these people have gone on to donate. Typically, around 1 in 1200 people on the register go on to donate, so Marrow donors are up to 10 times more likely to save a life than average.
One of these donors is 21-year-old Tom Beadman, who signed up to the register whilst studying Medicine at Nottingham University and donated his stem cells in September this year.
Tom said: ‘I saw a brief talk by Nottingham Marrow before a lecture, and then they were signing people up outside. I had heard of Anthony Nolan and what they do, but I never got round to signing up. It’s literally as easy as filling in a form and spitting in a tube.
‘I would say to anyone thinking about joining the register, if they’ve heard of Anthony Nolan, why wouldn’t you sign up? It’s not painful at all, Anthony Nolan sort out everything and it’s such a gratifying experience. It’s so important to sign up – if you can, why wouldn’t you?’
There is a particular need for more young men aged 16–30 to sign up as they are underrepresented on the register. Young men make up only 15% of the register but are far more likely to be chosen to donate by transplant centres and provide more than half of all donations.
There is also an urgent need for people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds to sign up, as they too are underrepresented on the register. Only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best possible match, and this drops dramatically to 20.5% if you're from a black, Asian or ethnic minority background.
22-year-old Glasgow Medical student Gregor Stark has been involved with Marrow for over three years, and in May found out that he will be donating his stem cells in November.
He said: ‘Marrow is so important because there are a lot of people who are in a very desperate situation. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to sign up, and at the same time it’s a very admirable thing to do.
‘It’s not difficult to join the register and potentially save a person’s life.’
Gregor has also just completed the Loch Ness Marathon. He said: ‘It was such a fantastic event up there, and a lot of the local community get involved which is really nice - even the weather was fantastic.
‘I think I’ve almost raised £400, which is great.’
On others joining the register, he added: ‘I still think there’s a lot of ignorance about the process – I think a lot of people imagine a big old Victorian hospital and a massive hypodermic needle. Obviously, it’s so different from that now.
‘It’s absolutely anyone’s choice whether or not to join. While some people may have some valid concerns about joining and there are plenty of good reasons not to join – but it’s so important for people to be properly informed. A lot of people don’t fully understand the process. I think a lot more people, particularly young people, would join if they knew everything about it.’
Around 2,000 people in the UK need a bone marrow transplant each year. This is usually their last chance of survival and Anthony Nolan uses its register to match potential stem cell donors to blood cancer patients.