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Call for more stem cell donors after Covid-19 hits new registration numbers

Experts said a stem cell transplant was often a patient’s ‘last opportunity’.

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A nurse taking blood (Anthony Devlin/PA)

A nurse taking blood (Anthony Devlin/PA)

A nurse taking blood (Anthony Devlin/PA)

A blood cancer charity is calling for more people to become stem cell donors after it saw a sharp fall in new registrations during the coronavirus outbreak.

DKMS said it had registered 10,661 new donors in UK between March and May this year compared to 35,058 during the same period in last year.

With operations and appointments being delayed, the need for donors will be much higher than usual in the months to come, it said.

Its head of marketing and communications Reshna Radiven told the PA news agency that a stem cell transplant was often a patient’s “last opportunity” after other treatments have not worked.

Ms Radiven added: “We absolutely need to make sure there are enough people on the register so we can find a close enough match for them to extend their life, if not cure their cancer.”

To mark the start of Men’s Health Week on Monday the charity is also encouraging young men to register to donate because they are more likely to be a successful match.

The charity said while 40% of donors worldwide are men around 70% of the blood stem cell transplants donated are by men.

Young men aged 16-30 have a one in 200 chance of being called to donate compared to a one in 800 chance for everyone else, it added.

The charity said that it has around 660,000 donors in the UK on its database, but finding a match when a patient needs it can be like finding a “needle in a haystack”.

There's a proportion who may never find a match anywhere in the world, which is quite upsetting.Reshna Radiven

Ms Radiven added: “To find someone who isn’t related to you, who is that level of match is very, very difficult, which is why we often have to go out of the UK to find a potential match.

“There’s a proportion who may never find a match anywhere in the world, which is quite upsetting.”

Ms Radiven said that the coronavirus crisis has had a “significant impact” on donors and with the drop in cancer referrals during the pandemic there could be a large backlog of people needing a donor in the near future.

She added: “Quite a lot of transplants have been postponed by Covid-19, so as we come out of lockdown there’s lots of patients who have been waiting for a while who will have a more urgent need for a donor, and it seems like there’s going to be another backlog coming through, so even more reason for more people to sign up to become a stem cell donor.”

The charity is encouraging people to register to become potential donors by sending swabs through the post.

People can sign up for a swab pack online, which will be posted out, and they then need to return the swabs in a pre-paid envelope.

Stem cell donor Sam Schmidt urged men to register during Men’s Health Week and said it was a simple way to save a life.

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Sam Schmidt, 24 from London, who donated his blood stem cells (DKMS/PA Media)

Sam Schmidt, 24 from London, who donated his blood stem cells (DKMS/PA Media)

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Sam Schmidt, 24 from London, who donated his blood stem cells (DKMS/PA Media)

Mr Schmidt, 24, from London, donated his stem cells in April in the middle of the coronavirus lockdown but said that due to staff wearing personal protective equipment and everyone following social distancing rules, it was as “safe as it can be”.

He added: “You have got to weigh up your situation, you might think ‘there’s a very, very small chance I might get coronavirus’, but if you are at that stage where you have to give a donation you are potentially someone’s only chance.

“It (joining the register) is one of the easiest and simplest ways to potentially save a life right now without any skin off your back.

“Men’s Health Week is a great opportunity to think about how, as a young man, you can help people in an easy way.”

Visit https://www.dkms.org.uk/en/register-now

PA