England

New stem cell matching program for British Asians

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Media captionAneesa Hussain, 17, is in need of a transplant

Scientists in the UK are working on a ground-breaking new program to help find suitable stem cell matches for British Asians.

The Anthony Nolan Trust estimates that people from Asian backgrounds have only a 40% chance of finding a match, compared with 90% of people of a white European background.

More than 470,000 people are on the charity's stem cell register but only 19,000 (4.8%) define themselves as Asian.

Asians are also more likely to have diverse tissue types, which makes finding a matching donor harder.

To address this, scientists from trust are working on a program called the Genotype Prediction Algorithm (GPA) for Asian donors funded by the Department of Health.

Potential donors

When someone joins the register, the charity does a preliminary analysis of their DNA. If they come up as a possible match, they are contacted for a more detailed tissue type analysis that confirms if they are suitable.

By creating a mathematical algorithm, the charity hopes to predict whether someone could be a good match using the information gathering in initial testing. They can then narrow down the group of potential donors contacted for more detailed analysis.

Dr Ronjon Chakraverty, of the Royal Free Hospital in north London, said: "We can put the patient's information into a computer and at the touch of a button we can quickly identify if the patient has a donor.

"When a patient is sick and in need of a transplant, that can be life-saving."

Risk of leukaemia

This new technology could benefit patients such as 17-year-old Aneesa Hussain from Hall Green in Birmingham who has Aplastic Anaemia, a condition in which bone marrow does not produce sufficient new cells to replenish blood cells.

It leaves her weak, prone to infection and at risk of leukaemia. Her quality of life and life expectancy would be improved by a successful stem cell transplant.

She said: "It plays a lot on your emotions because you're constantly having to wait.

"When you see your friends and they're constantly talking about what they're doing, all you want to do is just go out and be like you were before."

'Under-represented'

Ann O'Leary, head of register development at the Anthony Nolan Trust, said: "We're aiming to recruit 3,000 new Asian bone marrow donors by the end of May, for two reasons.

"Firstly, it will allow us to rapidly increase the number of Asian donors on the register as they are under-represented, making it much harder to find matches for Asian patients.

"It will also help our research team form a GPA for Asian donors, which will help us to identify potential matches more quickly.

"This will help us to reduce patient waiting times, which will help us to save more lives."

You can hear more on this story on Asian Network reports on Tuesday at 13.00 GMT and 1700 GMT, or you can listen back on the BBC iPlayer

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