More than 2 million people have registered to become stem cell donors the UK, new figures released today reveal. The UK stem cell register had an immensely successful year in 2019/20, with 326,756 new donors added – over 100,000 more than the previous year.
The UK stem cell register is known as the Anthony Nolan and NHS Stem Cell Registry and is made up of donors recruited by NHS Blood and Transplant, the Welsh Blood Service, DKMS and Anthony Nolan. The UK donor registers are urging young men, and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds to register and ensure that all patients in need of a stem cell transplant can find a, potentially, lifesaving match.
If a patient has a condition that affects their bone marrow or blood, then a stem cell transplant may be their best chance of survival. Doctors will give new, healthy stem cells to the patient via their bloodstream, where they begin to grow and create healthy red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
In 2019/20 62 per cent of people who donated stem cells or bone marrow to patients in the UK were men under 30. They are the demographic most likely to be chosen to donate, but make up just 19 per cent of the UK stem cell register.
The percentage of all donors from minority ethnic backgrounds has remained steady at 13 per cent in 2019/20, highlighting the importance of raising awareness of their lifesaving potential amongst this group. Patients from Black, Asian or other minority backgrounds have a 20 per cent chance of finding the best possible stem cell match from an unrelated donor, compared to 69 per cent for northern European backgrounds.
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said:
“Nobody could have foreseen the challenges this year would bring to building a healthy, diverse stem cell register. But we’ve adapted and we’ve innovated – as patients can’t wait – and we’re thrilled that in 2020, we’ve collectively recruited two million donors onto the stem cell register. Each donor represents hope, a potential cure for blood cancer.
“I thank colleagues and partners for their commitment helping us reach this point. I am also immensely grateful for the two million selfless individuals who signed up to the registry, making themselves available whenever they are needed.
“The two million milestone means increased chances for many of finding an unrelated donor match. But we’re still far from our goal of finding a match for everyone who needs one.
“I would urge anyone thinking of joining the stem cell register, especially young men, who are the most likely to be chosen, to do so today. You could be someone’s lifesaver, without you there is no cure.”
Christopher Harvey, Head of the Welsh Bone Marrow Registry, said:
“It’s incredibly heart-warming to know there are two million people in the UK who are willing to donate stem cells should they be the match for someone in need of their potentially lifesaving donation.
“We see in our roles the difference stem cells make, for lots of patients receiving stem cells is the final treatment option.
“Despite this great news we still have more to do. Unfortunately, there are still patients who are unable to find a match. That’s why we’re committed to ensuring every patient has the best possible chance of finding that one lifesaving donor in their time of need.”
Guy Parkes, Head of Stem Cell Donation & Transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant, said:
“We want all patients in need of a transplant to be able to find a lifesaving match. Each time a person joins this register it brings fresh hope to patients of a match.
“This register is used by hospitals across the UK to find suitable matches for patients and it has helped to save and improve the lives of thousands of people since its creation 33 years ago – it’s amazing that we now have over 2 million people on the register, putting the chances of matching donors to patients at a record high.
“Donating stem cells is an altruistic, lifesaving act and it’s an amazing thing to do. We will continue to expand the UK register to help patients in need. We particularly need more young men to join.”
Jonathan Pearce, CEO of DKMS UK said:
“We’re delighted to have reached such an amazing milestone and are grateful to those two million people who are actively registered and waiting to help give someone living with blood cancer or a blood disorder a second chance of life.
“At any one time there are around 2,000 people in the UK in need of a blood stem cell transplant, so whilst we recognise this achievement it goes without saying that we need to continue to encourage everyone that can register to do so. This will help to grow the numbers and diversify the registry further in order to improve the odds for those who currently have less chance of finding a matching donor.”