14 August 2020

DKMS is delighted to announce that we have partnered with The Sunflower Fund in South Africa earlier in June. This partnership will grow the diversity of  potential lifesavers in order to help people with blood cancer from across the world  find a matching blood stem cell donor.

Need for a diverse registry

Only one third of patients find a matching donor in their own family. The majority therefore depend on an unrelated donor, whose relevant tissue characteristics, so-called HLA-characteristics match those of the patient as closely as possible. Tissue characteristics are heavily influenced by the ethnic background and vary according to genetics and region. Accordingly, finding a match is far more complex compared to matching blood types.

Alana Jones, CEO of the Sunflower Fund partnered by DKMS, said; “We are very excited about the partnership with DKMS. Growing the diversity of the potential lifesavers is critically important and we see a fantastic opportunity to be able to do this together not only in South Africa but also in other African countries. We want to register as many potential donors to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life. This is our common mission.”

The story behind the fight

In different corners of the world and at different times, the experiences of  families who had a member affected by blood cancer galvanised these people into action, all with the same objective:  to fight blood cancer. Both The Sunflower Fund and DKMS were founded in this way - families lost loved ones and were committed to using their experiences to champion the cause of blood stem cell donation and, help other families that would, in the future, find themselves in the same position.

The  formation of The Sunflower Fund in 1999, was inspired by the heroic fight against leukaemia of two brave young men, Darren Serebro and Chris Corlett. While he was in treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), Chris Corlett painted a picture, which he titled ‘Sunflowers of Hope’. This was the main inspiration for the name of The Sunflower Fund, by his mother Tina Botha, the founder of the organisation. Now in its 20th year, The Sunflower Fund brings a wealth of expertise in the recruitment of blood stem cell donors and building an ethnically diverse registry of committed donors from across South Africa, Namibia, Ghana and Nigeria. The organisation also maintains a patient support fund to assist patients who are unable to afford costs associated with getting a transplant.

Our story began in a similar way  when Mechtild Harf was told that the only treatment for her leukaemia was a bone marrow transplant and that she had no matching family members. At the time, there were only 3,000 potential blood stem cell donors on the German registry.. Her husband Peter Harf founded DKMS in 1991 and within one year, the registry increased to  68,000 potential donors. Unfortunately, Mechtild did not survive, but before she passed away, she made Peter promise her that he would not stop fighting until every patient had a matching donor.

“Every life saved is a success”

Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO of DKMS, said; “Every life saved is a success – all over the world. We are driven by a simple ethos: to best serve our patients, we cannot simply address the problem at hand, but must look to the future to anticipate the needs of the people whose lives rely on our work.”

Neujahr added; “Facing the realities of genetic diversification and the subsequent role it will play in cancer treatments, global activities ensure the greatest chance of success for patients whose lives depend on finding a matching donor. Together we want to make a big impact in the lives of patients with blood cancer and disorders in South Africa and across the globe.”

With 10 million available donors and nearly 85,000 transplants facilitated, we are the largest network of donor centers in the world. The impact of the organisation is remarkable, with 40% of all unrelated blood stem cell transplants worldwide made possible by DKMS donors. This collaboration enables DKMS to contribute their experience in raising awareness of blood cancer and blood stem cell transplantation, of running an international registry and providing high quality blood stem cell products bringing hope to people all over the world.

How you can help

If you’d like to register as a potential blood stem cell donor you can check your eligibility and request a home swab kit today.

Anyone aged between 17-55 and in good general health can go on standby as a potential lifesaver. If you're not eligible or you're already registered, why not check the other ways to get involved in the fight against blood cancer?