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The Yorkshire Family Taking On Racial Disparities In Stem Cell Transplants And Winning

Did you know that BAME people are only 20% likely to find a successful stem cell match, compared to white Europeans who have a 69% chance? No? Me neither. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic helping gain traction and calls for changes around health inequalities in the UK, the first time I became aware of the racial disparities for BAME people living with blood cancer and other blood diseases, was after the passing of Joel Esan, the 17 year old brother of a close friend who tragically lost his battle with a rare form of leukaemia (ALAL) in June this year. 

First diagnosed in November 2018, Joel, from Doncaster, went into remission eight months later after receiving a seemingly successful bone marrow transplant from his mum, a 50% match. After relapsing in January 2020, Joel had four rounds of chemotherapy treatment and one round of radiotherapy, once again going into remission a month later. In April however the cancer had returned and as he couldn’t have another transplant in quick succession, he received a terminal diagnosis with three months to live. 

As a mixed-race person, Joel’s likelihood of finding a stem cell match was less than 20%. Speaking with a team of experts from Anthony Nolan, an organisation dedicated to matching donors to people desperately needing lifesaving transplants, I learnt that this is due to several biological and social factors.