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How stem cells help

What are stem cells?

Bone marrow, the soft, spongy tissue found in the centre of certain bones in your body, produces blood stem cells. 

Stem cells can be viewed as the 'building blocks' of the body as blood stem cells can mature into any of the other normal blood cells. This includes:

  • red cells - which carry oxygen
  • white cells -  which fight infection
  • platelets - which stop bleeding

The need for stem cell donors

There are a number of diseases that may prevent a person's bone marrow from working properly. These include leukaemia and aplastic anaemia, as well as other diseases of the immune system.

Although chemotherapy will successfully treat some people with these diseases, for many the only possibility of a cure is to have a stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.

In about 30% of cases, a donor can be found from within the patient's family. For example, about a third of people have a suitably-matched brother or sister.

The remaining 70% of people must rely on a matched volunteer donor, which is where the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR) helps.

Donors from ethnic communities

There is a continued need to recruit more donors, particularly people from African, African-Caribbean, Asian, Chinese, Jewish, Eastern European and Mediterranean communities. This is important, as finding a suitable match is often difficult due to the lack of appropriate volunteers on the registry. 

Some tissue types are more common in certain ethnic groups of the population, meaning that a patient is more likely to be matched with a donor from a similar ethnic background. This also increases the chances of a successful transplant.

The UK population is made up of people from many different ethnic communities. This wide range of tissue types may help to find potential stem cell donors for new patients who need transplants, both here in the UK and overseas.

Find out more about joining the British Bone Marrow Registry

Stem cell registries around the world

We work closely with other registries around the world to help find donors internationally. 

Your personal details are only available to the staff of the BBMR and are not available to international agencies.