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Urgent Need For More BAME Stem Cell Donation

19th Oct, 2020

Urgent Need For More BAME Stem Cell Donation

What Are Stem Cells?

Adult stem cells are undifferentiated – or unspecialised – cells that are found throughout our bodies and can multiply to create new cells. These new cells can be used to replace dying cells and to rejuvenate damaged cells.

Stem cells are like a scientific miracle inside your body; they can be used to treat a wide variety of injuries and illnesses, such as spinal cord injury, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and arthritis. There’s potentially no limit to the conditions that stem cells might help to treat.

Most commonly, stem cells are used to treat blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukaemia. This treatment is done via Blood Stem Cell Transplant and works by getting rid of unhealthy blood cells and replacing them with the healthy blood stem cells.  

Why Do We Need a Register for Stem Cell Donors?

For a Blood Stem Cell Transplant to work, the donor needs to be a genetic match for the patient. Around 75% of UK patients with blood diseases do not find a suitable stem cell donor within their families. This means that they need to rely on the Stem Cell Donor Register to find a match.

Currently, only 2% of the UK population are registered as Stem Cell Donors, and only 13% of those registered are from BAME communities.

Why Does Low BAME Donor Registration Matter?

Research has shown that finding a genetic match is much more likely within the same ethnic background.

Due to the under-representation of people from BAME communities on the register, and the improved likelihood of finding a match with people from the same ethnic background, patients from BAME communities are less likely to find a matching donor.

Currently, patients from Black, Asian, and Ethnic Minority communities only have a 20% chance of finding a match on the register.

How Do You Donate Stem Cells?

Stem Cell donation sounds scary, but for 90% of people, it’s a very similar process to giving blood! This process is called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection, and it’s a simple procedure, you won’t even need to stay in hospital overnight!

Bone Marrow Donation only makes up 10% of donations. If you are called to donate bone marrow, you won’t even notice it happening as you will be under general anaesthetic the whole time. You may need a few days off work afterwards as you may have some bruising and feel tired, but it is not the excruciatingly painful experience that it is often thought to be! And – you’ll have helped save a life!

You can sign up to be a stem cell donor through the DKMS website or the Anthony Nolan website – all you need to do is fill out a form and then you will be sent a swap kit. You need to swab the inside of your cheeks and send the swab back on the pre-paid, pre-addressed envelope – it couldn’t be easier!

If you are pregnant, you can register to donate your Umbilical Cord to the NHS Cord Blood Bank after your baby is born. This is often thrown away but is rich in stem cells and can be used to save lives.