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Students go global to tackle bone marrow shortage


A student organisation that successfully recruits thousands of bone marrow donors from UK universities is exporting its pioneering model abroad to tackle a global shortage of donors.

The organisation, Marrow, was set up nine years by The Anthony Nolan Trust in collaboration with British medical schools to recruit, test and counsel potential bone marrow donors at clinics on college campuses. (A clinic will be held on Newcastle University campus from 14.00 - 17.00 today, Thursday May 18).

This year, led by students at Newcastle University’s medical school, Marrow is encouraging medical schools throughout the world to follow its example.

A bone marrow transplant is a procedure mainly given to patients with life-threatening diseases like leukaemia or other blood disorders. Transplants carry a risk but are usually the last chance to save a patient’s life.

Marrow, which operates in 29 UK universities, recruits around 2,000 donors each year to the Anthony Nolan Trust’s bone marrow register, which is the UK’s most successful register with 370,000 members.

The Anthony Nolan register has given the chance of life to 4,800 adults and children who might have otherwise not have survived. However, there are not enough people on the register and over 7,000 patients worldwide are currently seeking a suitable donor.

Moreover, greater genetic diversity is urgently needed in bone marrow registers globally. Donors from African-Caribbean and Asian origin are particularly in demand.

One of the reasons for running Marrow clinics on campus is that students are particularly good recruits because they are young, generally healthy, and can stay on the register for a long time.

Students in Newcastle University’s Faculty of Medical Sciences, who this year represent Marrow at a national and international level as the National Committee, travelled to Croatia in March for the first leg of their global campaign, where they shared experiences with representatives of Croatia’s National Organ Donation group. They are also working with the International Federation of Medical Schools to spread the word.

Tom Skeath, a Newcastle University medical student and member of the Marrow national committee, said there was already a Marrow group set up in Holland but the aim is to expand much further afield:

“We would like the idea behind Marrow to have a presence in every country and medical school. We think it’s a realistic goal because so much has been achieved since Marrow was launched in 1997, and it now has a presence in all the UK’s medical schools,” said Tom.

He added: “Bone marrow transplants save lives, and the more people there are on the register, the more chance there is of survival for patients that are in need of transplants.”

It costs £70 to register each donor so Marrow also raises money for The Anthony Nolan Trust. The Newcastle University branch has raised £15,000 since beginning in 2000.

Tom added: “We’ll be encouraging medical schools to team up with their national bone marrow donor register in the same way we have worked so successfully with The Anthony Nolan Trust. Hopefully our experiences in the UK will provide some guidance and inspiration to our colleagues in other countries.”

Claire Jordan | alfa
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