SA Bone Marrow Registry Celebrates 30 Years of Saving Lives

SA bone Marrow

The SA Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) is celebrating three decades of saving lives this September.

In honour of its anniversary, the registry will be hosting a virtual concert this Friday the 17th September commemorating its 30-year legacy, with actor/producer Frank Rautenbach as MC, and SAMA nominated artist Jarrad Ricketts providing top-notch entertainment.

Dr Charlotte Ingram, Medical Director and CEO of the SABMR, says the concert is a wonderful opportunity to raise awareness of the work they do and to share poignant stories of donors and patients whose lives they have touched over the years.

“We will also be paying tribute to donors who are the backbone of the SA Bone Marrow Registry. They continue to provide hope to countless families and patients whose lives depend on their selfless acts.

“Annually, an estimated 4 000 new cases of blood disorders, such as leukaemia and lymphoma occur in South Africa. For many patients, the best chance of a cure is a bone marrow transplant, also termed a “stem cell” transplant.

“With thousands of tissue types, the odds of finding a match outside of a patient’s family is one in 100 000, which is like finding a needle in a haystack. For others, who may have inherited unique tissue types, the odds drop even further. The more donors we have across racial demographics, the greater the likelihood of a match and saving a patient’s life,” she says.

As the only accredited member of the World Marrow Donor Association in Africa, the SABMR collaborates with expert physicians across South Africa and over 70 registries worldwide to search locally and internationally for compatible donors for patients in need.

“We are extremely proud to celebrate the registry’s 30th anniversary, which marks a milestone in our journey,” remarks Dr Ingram.

“Since it was founded by Prof Ernette du Toit and the late Prof Peter Jacobs in 1991, much has changed, but the one constant has been our mission to ‘save lives’. For 30 years, we have connected patients with their lifesaving donors and provided support to patients and their loved ones throughout their transplant journey. This commitment has always and will continue to remain at the heart of what we do.

“Each and every day, we facilitate and improve access to transplants, conduct research, and educate and support patients and physicians. From the moment a physician contacts us for a donor to the safe delivery of the cells to a patient, we are there every step of the way.

“We are touched by the lives saved through transplantation and it’s what fuels our passion and dedication to find and deliver matched unrelated donor stem cells to patients, not only in South Africa, but all over the world.”

Some of the milestones achieved by the SABMR in the last three decades:

–         Facilitated the first unrelated donor match in 1997.

–         Aided in more than 180 collections within South Africa and 550 bone marrow stem cell transplants.

–         The youngest patient to receive a matched unrelated donor (MUD) was three months old, while the oldest patient was 71.

–         The youngest SABMR donor to donate stem cells was 19.

–         The majority of overseas stem cell donations have come from Germany (>250), but donations have also been received from donors as far afield as Russia, Brazil, India, Taiwan, Cyprus, Singapore, Israel, Canada, USA, Portugal, Spain, Poland, France, UK, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands, Austria and Australia.

–         In turn, SABMR donors have donated for patients in Sweden, USA, UK, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Portugal, Spain, Austria, the Netherlands and India.

–         In 2018, the SABMR launched an online platform to recruit donors and it introduced buccal swabs – used for collecting DNA from cells on the inside of a person’s cheek for initial tissue typing.

–         Lowered recruitment age from 18 to 16. Last year, South Africa became the 2nd country to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to become stem cell donors.

–         In 2020, the registry partnered with Netcells Nextbiosciences, the largest cord blood bank in SA, to launch a community cord blood bank, which would allow patients in need of a stem cell transplant access to cord blood.

Dr Ingram says the NGO continues to spread hope and healing to everyone affected by blood disorders and invites all to join their virtual celebration this Friday.

“By registering as a donor or making a financial donation will help to chart the path forward for the organisation and patients in need for years to come.”

The concert is free to the public and can be streamed on YouTube via this link https://youtu.be/ZJYtQblLv1w  from 18h30 to 20:00.

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