A charity set up in memory of a Jewish woman who died from myeloid leukaemia has successfully funded the UK’s first clinical trial using stem cells from umbilical cord blood to treat blood cancer.
Distinguished guests gathered to hear from Dr Rachael Hough, consultant in haematology and stem cell transplantation at UCL Hospitals, who presented her results last Thursday at a Sue Harris Trust event at the Royal Society of Medicine.
Those on the trial were diagnosed with advanced stages of various blood cancers and had a low chance of survival. However, as a result of the trial’s success, more than half are still alive after five years.
A generous donation of £150,000 enabled Dr Hough to undertake her groundbreaking research. She praised the Jewish charity and explained that “without this funding, these trials would never have happened”.
The Trust has previously co-funded the health economics study that underpins the UK national strategy on cord blood collection, and opened the Sue Harris Cord Blood Collection Centre at the Royal Free Hospital in 2012.
Law student Sue Harris died of chronic myeloid leukaemia in 1997, aged 34. The Sue Harris Trust was set up in her memory, and held the event to mark 20 years since her death.
After suddenly being diagnosed with the cancer, Sue learnt she needed a compatible bone marrow donor to save her life and that her donor was most likely to be Jewish. But in 1993, there were just 48 Jewish donors on the Anthony Nolan register.
Consequently, Sue and her friends launched a remarkable campaign to recruit donors from the Jewish community: 200,000 leaflets were placed on synagogue seats that Yom Kippur and full-page advertisements were placed in the Jewish press. Sue helped add more than 15,000 donors to the national register and the campaign to sign up Jewish donors continued on a global scale, forming part of the foundations of today’s Ezer register.
Sue’s friend Lionel Salama, who helped organise the event, said: “We came together to celebrate what her legacy has achieved.”
Legacy: Sue Harris died aged 34