New African Bone Marrow Registry

Nigeria launches its first ever bone marrow registry, which should make it easier to find matches for black people around the world.

Mar 19, 2012
Jef Akst

Founder Seun Adebiyi and University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital students snap a picture following the event. LIANA SCHAPIRO

Bone marrow transplants, or hematopoietic stem cell transplantations (HSCT), treat more than 70 different diseases, including some types of leukemia, lymphoma, and sickle cell anaemia. But such treatment often requires the matching of strangers for their human leukocyte antigen (HLA) tissue type. And while 70 percent of Caucasian patients are successfully matched, only 17 percent of black people in the United States are as lucky, according to The New York Stem Cell Foundation, likely because only 8 percent of donors in US registries are black.

The Bone Marrow Registry of Nigeria (BMRN), the country’s first ever bone marrow registry and the continent’s second (South Africa having the only other accredited registry), aims to change all that. The registry follows the excitement surrounding Nigeria’s first bone marrow transplant last October, in which a young sickle cell anaemia patient received bone marrow from a sibling. In addition to providing an invaluable service to the people of Nigeria, the registry, launched by Seun Adebiyi of Yale University, should help black patients around the world find matched donors. The launch of the registry was discussed at the NCD Child Conference currently being held in San Francisco.

Adebiyi also plans to establish another Nigerian source for stem cell transplants—an umbilical cord blood bank. “With as little as $75,000, we could build [a cord blood bank] in Nigeria by the end of this year instead of discarding this valuable source of stem cells,” he said in a Lancet press release. “There are almost 400 distinct ethnic groups and over 154 million people in Nigeria alone, and there is a huge population of umbilical stem cells just waiting to be banked in the maternity wards of hospitals around the country.”