1. ITV Report

Q&A: bone marrow donation

What is bone marrow and why do people need transplants?

Bone marrow is a soft tissue found in the middle of certain bones. It contains stem cells, which are the "building blocks" for other normal blood cells (like red cells, which carry oxygen, and white cells, which fight infection).

Some diseases, such as leukaemia, prevent people's bone marrow from working properly. And for certain patients, the only cure is to have a stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.

How do people find a donor?

Ideally, bone marrow should be donated from a close family member, such as a brother or sister, because there needs to be a close match between tissue types.

However, not all patients have a relative with a matching tissue. They rely on finding a donor through a bone marrow register - a list of people who are willing to donate bone marrow if it is needed.

When a new patient needs a donor, doctors search the register to try to find a match.

What are the average chances of finding a suitable donor?

For a white British individual, the chance of finding a match is 1 in 4.

But for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) patients that drops to 1 in 100,000.

Why are the odds so much worse for BME patients?

In order for an unrelated bone marrow match to be successful, the donor should come from the same ethnic origin as the patient in need.

At the moment, certain ethnic communities are under represented on the bone marrow register, so it is more difficult to find suitable donors for members of these communities who require a transplant.

There is a particular shortage of potential donors from the following ethnic groups:

  • African
  • African-Caribbean
  • South Asian (people of Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi origin)
  • Chinese
  • Jewish people of European descent
  • Eastern European
  • Southern European (such as people of Greek, Italian and Spanish origin)

How do you sign up as a donor?

If you are between the ages of 16 and 30, you can sign up with the Anthony Nolan Trust.

And if you are 31 to 49, you can join the British Bone Marrow Registry.

Blood and bone marrow donation charity ACLT is also holding two recruitment drives in the next week:

Tuesday 26th February, 2-8pm

Shepherds Bar, Shepherds Building, Charecroft Way, London, W14 0DA

Saturday 2nd March, 11-5pm

The Tabernacle, 35 Powis Square, Ladbroke Grove, London, W11 2AY

What does it involve?

At the ACLT recruitment drives, potential donors for the Anthony Nolan list will be asked to provide a small saliva sample.

Candidates for the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR) will be asked to attend a blood donation session at a later date to donate 1 unit (475mls) of blood.

Your details will then be kept on the register and you will be contacted if you turn out to be a potential match for a person requiring a transplant.

If you are called upon to donate, you will have to visit a hospital or clinic to have your bone barrow or stem cells harvested.

Am I eligible?

You must be:

  • 18 to 49 years of age to join the British Bone Marrow Registry
  • 16 to 30 years of age to join the Anthony Nolan Trust register
  • in good general health
  • over 8 stone (51kg) in weight

For more information contact the ACLT, the British Bone Marrow Registry or the Anthony Nolan Trust or visit the NHS Choices website.