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22 March 2004

Worldwide Search Ended in Heidelberg

Aid campaign for a local boy with leukaemia saved another patient's life — Heidelberg stem-cell registry has over 19,000 donors

Tobias would have been overjoyed. The incredible response to an aid campaign last year, in which over 7,500 volunteers had their blood and tissue typed, has now saved another patient's life. A participant in the campaign in December 2003 had the right tissue characteristics. 25-year-old Markus E. from Leimen, near Heidelberg, donated stem cells and thus helped to save the life of a severely ill leukaemia patient after a worldwide search had been initiated to find a suitable donor. Markus E. came out of the donation process completely unscathed and is very happy to have been able to help a mortally sick patient with a minimum of effort.

The blood and tissue typing campaign "Help for Tobias" started in early 2003. But among the 8.5 million registered volunteers all over the world, no suitable donor was found for the 11-year-old leukaemia patient Tobias. Ultimately stem cells from Tobias' brother were used. The transplant was successful, the leukaemia appeared to have been conquered. But then Tobias died of a severe infection in October 2003.

"Campaigns of this kind rarely help the actual patient who has galvanised the population into offering their help," says Peter Stadtherr, transplant coordinator for bone-marrow and stem-cell transplantation at the Department of Haematology and Oncology of the University Hospital for Internal Medicine (medical director Prof. Dr. Anthony Ho). But experience shows that campaigns involving thousands of potential donors can in fact lead to donations that help others. And the patient for whom the donations were intended also profits from such an overwhelming response because it gives him/her new courage and new determination to beat the illness.

Heidelberg stem-cell registry applied to more frequently than others

Potential donors from Heidelberg and the surrounding region are incorporated into the Heidelberg stem-cell donation registry, which is linked with the bone-marrow donation registry in Ulm and is thus part of a worldwide network. The Heidelberg registry was established in August 2000 and has records of 19,000 potential donors so far. This makes it one of the 11 largest in the total of 40 German stem-cell registries. The registry was founded in response to the increasing number of stem-cell transplants in Heidelberg's university hospitals, now totalling approx. 50 per year.

Donors from the Heidelberg registry are called upon about three times more frequently than those in other German registries. "The reason is the high quality of our tissue typing procedures," says Dr. Sabine Scherer, in charge of the registry, which is a joint institution of the Heidelberg Polyclinic and the Department of Haematology and Transplant Immunology (medical director Prof. Dr. Gerhard Opelz). The Heidelberg registry is the only one in Germany to identify tissue characteristics (histocompatibility features) exclusively via molecular-biological methods. Also, instead of the usual four HLA (human leukocyte antigen) features, the Heidelberg registry identifies six, which leads to a significant acceleration in the search for matching donors.

But this process is expensive and the health insurance schemes do not shoulder the costs for it. The "Blood" Society (citizens against leukaemia and other tumour diseases) has already collected 288,000 euros to support the Leimen aid campaign. But this still leaves a deficit of 150,000 euros as only part of the costs for the identification process could be covered by additional donations.

Information on stem-cell donations in Heidelberg:

Inquiries to the Heidelberg stem-cell registry: e-mail:

Central German Bone-Marrow Donation Registry on the Internet:

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Annette Tuffs
Public Relations Dept. of the Faculty of Medicine
University of Heidelberg
Voßstrasse 2, Building 4040
D-69115 Heidelberg
phone: 06221/564536
fax: 06221/564544
mobile: 0170/5724725

Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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