Only fifty years ago, every individual that developed leukaemia died of the disease shortly afterwards. Today you can save their life and UWE Marrow will give you this opportunity on October 23rd between 10am and 3pm in RedBar.
We frequently forget how much modern medicine advances even in the space of a year, and how far we have come even within the past couple of generations in treating the majority of diseases. While there are frequent reports about the burden of an ageing society on health and social care resources, there can be no denying that our evasion of suffering diseases and death is a good thing. One group that is acutely aware of the progress modern medicine has made is the Anthony Nolan Trust, a charity which conducts research into causes of and treatments for leukaemia, as well as educating the public about the disease, and, perhaps most incredibly of all, enrolling healthy bone marrow donors and matching them to leukaemia patients to save lives.
Leukaemia is a general term, describing a group of cancers which affect the blood cells, which are produced in the bone marrow. It includes all blood cell types (red oxygen-carrying cells, white infection-fighting cells, and platelet wound-clotting cells) and so there are many forms, and many different symptoms that patients can present with. As cancers are growths of cells that will not die or stop dividing, the bone marrow eventually fills up with millions of copies of a single cell type (usually an immature, non-functioning cell) so there is no room for a person’s healthy, useful cells. Leukaemias can be acute or chronic, meaning that they can get worse and kill within 6 months, or between 6 months and several years.
Leukaemia patients typically present to their doctor with fatigue, bone pain, recurrent infections, and bruising. As soon as a person is diagnosed, they have to start chemotherapy treatment within the day in order to stand the best chance of recovering. Along with this, one of the best treatments which will ensure a high chance of survival is a bone marrow transplant, in which the blood-forming stem cells from donor bone marrow are inserted in to leukaemia patients to replenish their bone marrow.
At UWE, a new volunteer group called UWE Marrow is working to enrol students as healthy bone marrow donors. On October 23rd, a recruitment drive for donors will be taking place in RedBar on Frenchay campus. All you need to do is spit into a tube, so that your tissue type from the epithelial cells in your mouth can be tested, and maybe one day matched to a leukaemia patient by the Anthony Nolan Trust. The chances are that you won’t ever hear from them, but if you do, you have the opportunity to do something incredible. But won’t it hurt? Won’t it make you ill? Do you have time? You might be surprised to find that most bone marrow donations are conducted by a simple blood transfusion (in which all your blood is returned to you, except the blood-making stem cells that leukaemia patients need), rather than the traditional aspiration of the bone marrow itself using a needle. Donors find that they feel a little tired and slightly run down after the transfusion, but this only lasts a couple of days. And, lastly, the treatment would only take a couple of hours but would be worth a lifetime for the patient you could help.
The Anthony Nolan Trust makes over 1000 matches every year, but there were over 8000 new cases of leukaemia in the UK in 2011. Now that we have the technology, there is no reason for any of these patients to go without a bone marrow transplant. By heading to RedBar on October 23rd and signing your name to the Anthony Nolan donor register, you could potentially be saving somebody’s life – is there any opportunity more incredible than that?
By Sophie Evans