Students campaign for more ethnic minority stem cell donors

Student volunteers at three Birmingham universities will launch a campaign attempting to recruit hundreds of potential stem cell donors to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register.

The week-long ‘Birmingham City’ campaign, which launched this week, is being spearheaded by ‘Marrow’, blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan’s student volunteer network, which operates in 55 universities across the country.

Birmingham has a diverse population and, because of this, the Birmingham City campaign will seek to highlight and celebrate the diversity of Birmingham, by having a particular focus on recruiting people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

It’s more difficult for patients from BAME backgrounds to find a donor with a matching tissue type. Only 60% of transplant recipients receive the best match, and this drops dramatically to around 20%, for patients from black, Asian or ethnic minority backgrounds. Students in Birmingham want to do everything they can to change this.

Students campaign for more ethnic minority stem cell donors
Shaswath Ganapathi

Shaswath Ganapathi is a 3rd-year medical student at Birmingham University and is a Birmingham Marrow committee member. He decided to volunteer with Marrow after his friend, Rohan, sadly died from leukaemia last year.

Shaswath and the other committee members hold events across the university, where they encourage students to sign up to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register, any of whom could go on to donate their stem cells in the future.

Shaswath said:

“The donors I have spoken to have said that it’s the most life-changing thing they have ever done, and they would never have thought that spending a few minutes signing up at a stand and doing a quick cheek swab could lead to potentially saving someone’s life.”

Stem cell donors recruited by Marrow, account for over a quarter of all people who go on to donate, meaning the student volunteers are a vital part of the work of Anthony Nolan. This academic year, Marrow is also celebrating 20 years of students saving lives and the 130,000 potential lifesavers they have recruited to the Anthony Nolan stem cell register since 1998.

Samrick Bahia, 25, was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 19 years old and spent three months at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham. He has been told that if his cancer returns, a stem cell transplant will be the only option.

Samrick said:

“Even now I’m scared of getting cancer again, I’m scared of it coming back.

“My doctor told me that the chance of people from Asian backgrounds finding the best possible match is significantly reduced. It was such a shock to hear that we have a much lower chance.”

Samrick is now passionate about raising awareness of the Anthony Nolan register, especially within the Asian community.

He continued:

“Signing up to the register is so simple. If you are chosen to donate, it’s not going to affect your life, but it could save someone else’s.”

Shreena Chavda, signed up to the Anthony Nolan register when she saw a Marrow stand at her university fresher’s fair. She was called up to donate last year.

Students campaign for more ethnic minority stem cell donors
Shreena donating her stem cells

Shreena said:

“Coming from an ethnic minority background, I instantly knew that I had been called up to donate because there was no one else, as I know men are more likely to be chosen.

“After I donated I felt so happy and energetic, that I had done something to actually help someone.

“It’s the least painful but one of the most joyful things I have ever done, there is no other feeling in the world.

“If you might be able to give someone a new life, it’s amazing, why wouldn’t you want to experience that.”

Aisling Cohn, Youth Programmes Senior Manager at Anthony Nolan said:

“Our Birmingham Marrow volunteers really are heroes, helping Anthony Nolan give hope to patients with blood cancer by signing up thousands of potential donors.

“It is also so important to address the need for more people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds on the stem cell register so that we are able to find a match for every person in need of a transplant, regardless of their ethnicity. Our Birmingham City campaign provides the perfect opportunity to register a large number of potential donors, from a mix of backgrounds, heritages and communities.”

Anyone aged 16-30 and in relatively good health can join the Anthony Nolan register. To find out more about Anthony Nolan visit