Blood cancer is the 5thmost common type of cancer in the UK, and every 20 minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer like leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma. Approximately 2,000 people are looking for a potentially lifesaving blood stem cell donor each year. A blood stem cell donation from a matching donor could save the lives of many people with a blood cancer or blood disorder. Research shows that 30% of the blood cancer patients needing a blood stem cell donation find a donor within their family. The rest are forced to rely of finding a match on the UK’s stem cell registry.
Finding a person with a matching tissue type for someone in need of a blood stem cell donation is not easy. With over 17,000 known tissue characteristics that can occur in millions of combinations, finding a matching donor can be like finding a needle in a haystack.
There are over 300,000 people in the UK registered as potential blood stem cell donors however, less than 5% of donors in the UK have a south Asian heritage and less than 3% of donors are black. This means that people of minority ethnicities face severe inequality in their search for a donor with a similar tissue type to theirs. By joining the UK Stem Cell Registry, you will be going on standby to save a life and could be matched with someone who is desperately in need of a blood stem cell donation.
1) Register as a potential blood stem sell donor either online and complete your cheek swab at home or register at a local donor recruitment drive. Once your swabs are collected they are sent off to a specialist laboratory to be typed.
2) The swabs are received by the lab. The lab will analyse them to determine your Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) tissue characteristics. HLA tissue characteristics are much more complex than matching blood groups.
3) If you are matched to a patient, you will go through the Confirmatory Typing (CT) process. You will be contacted by our medical team and they will guide you through each step. You will be requested to have a blood test at your local GP or hospital and will be asked to complete a medical questionnaire and consent form.
4) After the CT process, the patient’s clinical team will select the best possible donor from their shortlist. If you are the best match for the patient, you will then go through to the ‘Work-Up’ stage in preparation for your donation. You will have a further medical assessment and consultation at a specialist collection centre (where you will later donate your blood stem cells).
5) You will donate blood stem cells via one of two methods: peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collect. This method is used 90% of the time. You will receive injections of a stimulating factor called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF) for four days prior to your donation. This is simply to stimulate your blood stem cells in the bone marrow into the blood stream ready for collection. These injections are administered by a nurse at either your home or work. For actual donation, a needle is placed into one arm and your blood is circulated through an apheresis machine, which acts as a filter to remove the blood stem cells. A second needle then returns the blood through your other arm. The whole process takes approximately 4-6 hours and you can return to work within one or two days. Bone Marrow Donation is the other method. This is a slightly longer process, involving a general anaesthetic and a two night stay in the hospital. A thin needle extracts bone marrow from the back of your hip bone (not the spine), from which blood stem cells are collected. It is said to feel like you have taken part in a tough rugby game and you can return to work within a week.