You Could Help Save Lives At Uni… Here’s How

You may have already heard about the blood charity and bone marrow register Anthony Nolan, but what you probably didn’t know is that they have groups of students called Marrow at over 40 universities in the UK that help carry out their lifesaving work.


I joined their Leeds Marrow branch last year and it’s probably the most rewarding thing I’ve done during my time at university.

If you haven’t heard of the charity before, their aim is to recruit people – between the ages of 16 and 30 – to the stem cell/bone marrow register, giving people with blood cancers like leukaemia a second chance at life. They were also involved with the campaign that saw Gareth Bale pose for a selfie with a pair of pants on his head.


Above: Gareth Bale put his pants on his head to help raise awareness of the #Help4Hollie campaign to find a match for Hollie from Cardiff.

Every 20 minutes someone in the UK is diagnosed with a blood cancer and around 2,000 people each year need a transplant, this is usually their best chance of survival.  If a match can’t be found in their family that’s when they turn to the Anthony Nolan register to find an unrelated donor

The more diversity and greater numbers of selfless volunteers we get on the register – the greater chance there is of finding them a match.

In particular young men and those with mixed or minority ethnic heritage are underrepresented on the register. This means, it’s harder for someone from a black or minority ethnic background to find a match which obviously just isn’t fair.

Universities are the perfect recruiting grounds for Anthony Nolan as young people are most likely to be chosen to donate because they are less likely to suffer from long term health complications. The charity recently revealed that Marrow recruit 1 in 5 people who go on to donate – not bad at all!

Marrow actively recruit potential lifesavers to the register at various events on and off campus throughout the year. It’s an incredibly straightforward process, all people need to do is fill in a short form and spit in a tube.  The groups also help raise funds for the charity with anything from street collections to coast-to-coast cycle challenges.

While they are very involved with the charity’s work the various branches are also student societies, so you get the added bonus of socials, meeting new people and making friends for life. It also looks great on your CV.

At this point you may be considering signing up, or even volunteering with your university’s group, but think the procedure’s really painful – it’s not! And this is one of the reasons why Marrow exists, to dispel myths around the donation process.

In 90% of donations the process is similar to giving blood; you simply sit in a bed for a few hours with a small needle in each arm and your stem cells are filtered out of your blood by a machine that takes what it needs and the rest goes back into your other arm. That’s it!

The other 10%  of the time the donation is taken from the bone marrow in your pelvis via a needle all while you’re under general anaesthetic. It’s a simple procedure and people who have donated this way have described it as feeling a little achy for a few days afterwards – a bit like having a mild flu. Nothing compared to what the recipient is going through!

More donors are always needed, and with both the signing up and donation process being so simple, it’s hoped that students will continue to play a crucial role in making sure everyone, no matter what their background, can find their lifesaving match.

The work Marrow does is really important, last year the Leeds branch raised thousands of pounds for Anthony Nolan and recruited over 2300 people to the register – with around one in every 100 people recruited by Marrow groups going on to donate that work may well have saved 23 lives – not bad for a bunch of students, eh?

Volunteering with a Marrow group is not only beneficial to you in terms of CV material it also gives you loads of transferable skills that are looked on very favourably by employers and to top it all off it’s great fun too. It’s really flexible, so it’s easy to fit around even the busiest uni timetables (a lot of volunteers are third and fourth year medics). Once you’ve come to a short training session you’re free to participate as much or as little as you like.

If you want to know more about Marrow or are keen to get involved with your local group you can find more information on the Anthony Nolan website. If you’d like to sign up to the register you can do that online or look out for your local branch around campus.

Leeds Marrow volunteers Anthony Nolan
Leeds Marrow volunteers recruiting new members at the Leeds University Union Fresher’s Fair


A version of this article first appeared on Student Wire, where the author is a contributor, on October 13, 2014.

Matt Silver

CIPR Accredited PR Practitioner who helps technology companies tell their stories at Babel PR – a London-based integrated communications agency for brands in the digital economy. A PRCA member and Freeman of the Company of Communicators with over seven years of experience in strategic communications, Matt relishes the opportunity to get under the skin of complex issues, and develop integrated communications solutions that deliver commercial results for clients. Working with some of the biggest names in technology, Matt’s been tasked with everything from launching new mobile devices, to putting supercomputers on the international space station. A frequently frustrated follower of both politics and Scottish rugby, beyond the world of work Matt takes a keen interest in fine food and drink, as well as getting out and about in the countryside.