Next Biobank has joined hands with the South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) to make cord blood available to more South Africans in need.

by | Nov 16, 2021



SABMR has around 73 000 local bone marrow donors, which in comparison to the number of donors worldwide (around 37 million), is exceptionally small. There is only a 1 in 100 000 chance of finding a stem cell donor match; sadly, these odds drop further for mixed race and ethnic minorities, as they are poorly represented on registries worldwide. South Africa has one of the most culturally diverse groups of people, which translates into extensive genetic diversity. Most bone marrow registries around the world, including South Africa, struggle to increase the donor pool among ethnic populations.


SABMR Donor distribution


For a stem cell donation to work, the donor and recipient need to have a perfect tissue match, known as an HLA match. Cord blood has the benefit of requiring a less stringent tissue match than sources of adult stem cells, with only a 4/6 HLA match being required, instead of a 6/6 or perfect match. This makes access to cord blood vitally important. Sourcing an international cord blood unit can cost up to R1 million which is just not feasible. Having a local repository will make cord blood units available at a much more attainable cost.

As a result, in April, we joined hands with SABMR to launch the Netcells Community Bank. This stem cell banking product gives expectant parents personal access to their cord blood and tissue samples; whilst at the same time, listing the cord blood sample on the South African Bone marrow registry, making it available to others in need of lifesaving transplants. The cord blood unit is used on a first come first serve basis: if the parents need the unit first, they will have access to it, however if a recipient in need is identified by SABMR first, then the unit will be used by that patient in need.

Private stem cell banking will remain available to expectant parents, at the same price as before, and parents will be banking their baby’s cord unit for his or her own use in the future or for use by a family member. In essence, the family owns the cord blood and can decide how they would like to use it. However, once the storage period is up, the parents will now be given the option to list the cord blood unit on the SABMR or continue to store privately.

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