Expansion of bone marrow donor registry is good news for blood cancer patients

Blood cancers

By Michael Woodhead

2 Apr 2024

Funds to increase the number and diversity of bone marrow donors on the Australian Bone Marrow Donor Registry (ABMDR) have been pledged by federal, state and territory governments.

At the recent Health Ministers Meeting all governments agreed to help boost the supply of local bone marrow donations by releasing up to $4.2 million from the Cord Blood Export Revenue (CBER) fund.

The move aims to both increase the number of donors and also target donations from non-blood donors, using cheek swabs.

Over 600 Australians with blood cancer require donated stem cells for a transplant each year. A recent report from the ABMDR showed an increase in donors was needed because Australia’s shrinking donor pool no longer meets the nation’s growing needs for stem cell transplant products.

With only about 5000 potential bone marrow donors recruited from blood donation centres each year, Australia was becoming increasingly dependent on overseas donors. Currently eight out of 10 Australian patients relying on an overseas donor, the report found.

“This funding will save lives by increasing local bone marrow donor recruitment through more blood testing and cheek swabbing, and create a more diverse pool of donors,” a statement from federal health minister Chris Butler noted.

“In the past, Australia has not moved fast enough to enable more effective matching of bone marrow donors with patients who need them,” said Mr Butler.

“Today’s announcement delivers on the commitment made by the Albanese Government and all states and territories to strengthen our blood donor registry for the benefit of the many Australians who need a transplant each year.”

The ABMDR and Australian Red Cross Lifeblood will each receive $1 million to drive an increase in bone marrow donors.

Other activities will help to strengthen the register by helping to better target future bone marrow donor recruitment and support the broader implementation of Australia’s National Haemopoietic Progenitor Cell (HPC) Framework.

This funding builds on Health Ministers release of $1 million from the CBER fund in February 2023 to increase bone marrow donor recruitment.

The move was welcomed by the Leukaemia Foundation, whose CEO Chris Tanti said enhancing our registry would save lives.

“The commitment from governments to address the critical need for more bone marrow and stem cell donors is commendable. These efforts align perfectly with our mission to ensure that every Australian diagnosed with a blood cancer has access to the best possible care, including life-saving transplants,” he said.

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