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Campaign to register stem cell donors saves baby

19 October 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1068

A critically ill one-year-old child has found a matching stem cell donor after his family started a public campaign urging people to sign up to the UK stem cell register. 

In August, Reign Miller-Hardy was diagnosed with hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a rare genetic disease that causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues and organs such as the liver, brain and bone marrow.

'We as a family are so lucky that Reign has found his miracle match,' his great-aunt Lisa Evans told WalesOnline, 'but there are still so many people who are still waiting for that all-important donor.'

The only curative treatment for HLH is a bone marrow stem cell transplant, alongside chemotherapy to destroy the dangerous immune cells. Miller-Hardy's curative stem cell transplant was dependent on finding a match – the donor needs to be the same human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type, meaning they display the same proteins on the cell surface. 

Finding a match can be difficult: two-thirds of patients do not have a suitable donor within the family and must rely on strangers on the UK stem cell register. There was no match for Reign, so the family urgently appealed to the public to join the register and donate blood. Their efforts via national newspapers, radio stations and social media paid off as a close match was found at the beginning of October.

Successful campaigns like this one may have led to the surge in registrations this year, with 326,000 people signing up to donate, 100,000 more than last year. The total number of registered donors has exceeded two million for the first time. They have been recruited by NHS Blood and Transplant, the Welsh Blood Service and the charities Anthony Nolan and DKMS. 

Despite this, males under 30 are still poorly represented on the register even though they provide over half of all donations. People from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds are also in high demand.

'The two million milestone means increased chances for many of finding an unrelated donor match' Henny Braund, chief executive of Anthony Nolan, said 'But we're still far from our goal of finding a match for everyone who needs one.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
'Miracle' bone marrow match found for baby with deadly disease just two days after his first birthday
WalesOnline |  5 October 2020
Two million donors sign up to stem cell register
The Times |  15 October 2020
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