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November 17 2011

The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP), which facilitated its first marrow transplant between an unrelated donor and patient 25 years ago, this week marked a major milestone by facilitating its 50,000th transplant. The NMDP operates the Be The Match Registry®, the world’s largest and most diverse registry of potential marrow donors and umbilical cord blood units, serving patients with life-threatening diseases, such as leukemia and lymphoma.

Miah Winterfeldt, a 19-year-old college student from Shakopee, Minn., was identified as the 50,000th donor. Miah was inspired to join the Be The Match Registry in honor of her uncle who passed away from lymphoma. She was identified as a donor match and recently donated peripheral blood stem cells to an individual with leukemia.

Every year, more than 10,000 patients in the U.S. are diagnosed with life-threatening diseases such as leukemia or lymphoma, and their best or only hope of a cure is a transplant from an unrelated adult donor or cord blood unit. But more volunteer donors, like Miah, are needed to help all patients find a match.

For 25 years, patients and their families have turned to the National Marrow Donor Program and Be The Match, hoping and praying for a cure. And for 25 years, we have answered the call,” said Jeffrey W. Chell, M.D., chief executive officer of the NMDP. “We have many dedicated partners to thank for their work on behalf of the thousands of children and adults who seek our help, including donor centers and transplant facilities across America, as well as international registries. We’re especially grateful for the millions of everyday people who have volunteered to become donors and give the gift of life.”

Today, the Be The Match Registry includes more than 9 million potential donors, and provides patients access to more than 185,000 cord blood units. On average, 60,000 new potential donors join the Be The Match Registry each month.

Those donors and many more are needed because of the increasing number of patients who could benefit from transplants. Advances in the science of transplantation – including

more precise methods to match patients with unrelated donors, better pinpointing of optimal transplant timing and more potent drugs to combat complications – have made the procedure an option for thousands more patients of various ages and diverse ethnic backgrounds. 

Proof of the groundbreaking momentum behind transplant therapy is the fact that half of the 50,000 procedures facilitated by the NMDP were performed in the last five years alone.

By 2015, the nonprofit organization plans to double the number of transplants it facilitatesannuallyto more than 10,000.

The NMDP’s first transplant occurred in 1987, when Diane Walters of Wisconsin donated marrow to 6-year-old Brooke Ward of North Carolina, to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia. 

Since then, the NMDP and its research arm, CIBMTR® (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research®), have continually collaborated with the global scientific community to lead and support research. 

“The tremendous strides in transplant therapy over the last 25 years will continue under the NMDP’s leadership,” Chell said. “Every day, we move closer to our ultimate goal of providing a matching donor for every patient who needs one.”