Education about stem cell donation - used to treat patients with blood cancers and blood disorders - could see an additional 55,000 young people a year join the UK stem cell register, charity reveals
Earlier this year, it was revealed that all state-funded schools in England will teach children about good physical and mental health, how to stay safe on and offline, and the importance of healthy relationships under bold new plans by Education Secretary Damian Hinds.
The proposals, which are due to be introduced from September 2020, will see all secondary school pupils study compulsory health education, including blood and organ donation. Now, blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is urging the Department for Education to add stem cell donation to this statutory guidance.
Devastatingly, many blood cancer patients do not receive the stem cell transplant they urgently need, either because there is no donor available or because a donor cannot be found quickly enough. Anthony Nolan states that urgent change is needed in order to prevent the loss of life.
The charity estimates that, simply by including stem cell donation within Health Education, this could provide a necessary boost in the number of registered donors. It is estimated that up to 10% of the 550,000 students in each year group could choose to join the UK stem cell register once they become eligible at 16.
The charity commissioned research shows a lack of available information about what stem cell donation involves, and how it could potentially save the life of someone with blood cancer. The charity warns that there is a gap in education and that this is currently preventing young people from joining the stem cell register.
The charity surveyed 460 young people who had recently left state-funded secondary school in England. Research revealed the majority (82%) had heard of stem cell donation, however, their understanding of what it involves and why stem cell donors are needed was worryingly mixed.
The results show that one in five (21%) young people had not heard of the UK stem cell register. Fewer than a quarter of survey respondents (22%) knew that stem cells can be donated via the bloodstream, even though this is the case for nine out of 10 donors.
The research also highlighted a number of misconceptions. Worryingly, 16% thought that stem cell donation is very painful and nearly half (44%) incorrectly thought that stem cell donation uses embryonic stem cells, which are grown from cells found in the embryo when it is just a few days old.
The most popular reason young people gave for not joining the register was a desire for more information about what stem cell donation involves (42%).
Henny Braund, Chief Executive of Anthony Nolan, said:
“We know a lack of information about stem cell donation is preventing young people from joining the UK stem cell register. A small change to statutory guidance will help raise awareness, tackle misconceptions and show young people how they can make a positive contribution to society. It could also lead to an additional 55,000 young people a year joining the stem cell register once they turn 16.
“We are aware that stem cells are covered by the new Key Stage 4 science curriculum, however, as this focuses on their use in medicine, rather than the act of donation, Health Education still has an extremely important role to play.
“By making this small change, and including stem cell donation in Health Education, the Department for Education could give hope to blood cancer patients in desperate need of a lifesaving stem cell transplant.”
‘4 years ago I got the news that my little cousin had won her battle with leukaemia and now, on her 11th birthday, I have just finished donating stem cells myself to help someone else. And it was so easy!'— Anthony Nolan (@AnthonyNolan) November 12, 2018
Aged 16-30? Join the stem cell register:
👉 https://t.co/3e4ZuKkBfX pic.twitter.com/nAObh4bwgX
Anthony Nolan has been involved in educating 16-18-year-olds about stem cell, blood and organ donation since 2009. This education work has resulted in more than 100 young people donating stem cells to patients in need of lifesaving transplants.
The charity’s education programme, The Hero Project, trains volunteers to deliver presentations to 16-18-year-olds in sixth forms and colleges. For many of these students, it is the first time they are taught about what stem cell donation involves.