Henry Winter
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Making stem cell transplants an option for every patient

Henry Winter
Posted by
30 Apr 2012

A recent report by the Department of Health (DH) suggests that more needs to be done to increase the number bone marrow donations from individuals from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds as many patients are currently unable to find a suitable match.

Transplants have becoming increasingly safer and more effective in recent years with more than 54% of patients now alive one year after an unrelated donor stem cell transplantation compared to 42% ten years ago. It is vital that all patients have this option.

Almost all cells in the body carry protein markers (called HLA) on their surface. The genes which determine these markers are inherited from our parents. The combination of markers is known as an HLA type. For most patients the ideal donor is an HLA-matched brother or sister. The chance of any given sibling being a match is about one in four. If the patient has no matching sibling, registers of volunteer donors will be searched for a match.

Currently those blood cancer patients from a BME or mixed-race background waiting for a transplant are far less likely find a life-saving donor match than white patients. Clearly with this inequality in treatment, more needs be done in terms of awareness and resources to boost BME donation and the DH are committed to working with everyone involved to help make this happen.

“Many patients in the United Kingdom cannot benefit from potentially life-saving treatment because they lack a suitable donor. As a result more than 400 patients each year are denied access to a transplant. Current trends show that over 200 of these lives could be saved by transplantation were a donor to be available,” says Professor Charles Craddock, Director of the Blood and Marrow Transplant Unit at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham and Professor of Haemato-oncology at University of Birmingham. “This loss of life disproportionately affects black and minority ethnic patients because of the particular challenges in identifying suitable donors for members of these communities.”

People can sign up to the bone marrow register here. It only takes a moment and it could save a life.