A matching stem cell donor has been found for 24 year-old student Lara Casalotti, whose campaign to find a match inspired a worldwide surge of over 20,000 new donors in under a month.
Lara, from North London, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in December during a trip to Thailand, and told her best hope of a cure was a stem cell transplant – but first she needed to find a donor.
Due to Lara’s Thai-Italian heritage, she faced a “needle in a haystack” search - only three per cent of the worldwide stem cell donor registers are mixed race, and Lara’s match was most likely to come from someone with a similar ethnic background to herself.
In a bid to widen the pool of potential donors, Lara’s family and friends launched the global #Match4Lara appeal, working with donor registries in the UK, Thailand, America, Italy and beyond to appeal for more people from mixed race and ethnic minority backgrounds to sign up.
Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan have been searching the worldwide registers and, to the family’s relief, have been able to find a selfless individual whose tissue type matches Lara’s and who is able to donate.
The donor’s identity must be kept anonymous due to strict patient-donor confidentiality regulations. If all goes to plan, then they will donate their stem cells in March.
Lara’s mother Supanya said: “As a mum, I feel pure relief as we knew that the odds were stacked against Lara. Whoever the donor is, they will never, ever know how grateful I am. The transplant is still a few weeks away and I wish I could wrap them in cotton wool to keep them safe!
“We know we have a long road ahead as a transplant is an extremely serious procedure, but knowing there is a good match for Lara is a weight off our shoulders that we desperately needed.”
Lara’s brother Seb Casalotti, 20, added: "We’ve been so lucky in finding a match but we know that others are not so fortunate. The Match4Lara events planned around the world over the coming weeks will go ahead as planned, so that other families can one day receive the same good news. This campaign was hatched around the dinner table and we never expected it to receive such incredible support - we were inspired by the Match4Aary campaign, who is still waiting for a match, so we need people to keep signing up to registries worldwide.”
The #Match4Lara appeal has been backed by thousands of friends, strangers and celebrities including J.K. Rowling, David Cameron, Gareth Bale, Stephen Fry and Mark Wahlberg.
Donor drives were held across three continents, as young people rallied behind Lara Casalotti’s worldwide search for a stem cell donor.
The family estimates that the number of people who have joined a stem cell register globally because of Lara is well in excess of 20,000.
In particular, Anthony Nolan saw an ‘unprecedented spike’ of new donors from black, Asian, ethnic minority or mixed race backgrounds in the UK – at the campaign’s peak, more than 50% of those signing up to the register were from BAME backgrounds, the highest proportion ever seen by the charity in a campaign of this nature.
Lara, who is studying for a Masters in global migration at UCL, said: “These past months have been a whirlwind but I am so thankful a donor with a genetic match has now been found. Thanks to everyone’s immense support, I have always stayed hopeful that I would find one, but I realise how lucky I have been, given how difficult it was to find that donor. I want to keep urging people to sign up to the donor registries so that everyone can have a chance of finding their match. Let’s find a Match4All.”
Ann O’Leary, Head of Register Development at Anthony Nolan, said: “We’re over the moon that we’ve been able to find a suitable donor for Lara and that she’s now able to begin her transplant journey.
“We’re so grateful to Lara and all of her incredible supporters for spreading the word about the simple but vital act of donating stem cells. By diversifying the donor register, they have given hope to so many other people from ethnic minority and mixed race communities.
“The life-changing impact of the Match4Lara campaign will be seen for years to come, as any one of the thousands of people they have signed up could save the life of someone like Lara in the future.”