The Sunflower Fund partnered by DKMS is a non-profit organisation registered in South Africa and a donor recruitment centre and registry. We fight blood diseases like leukaemia through the recruitment of (bone marrow) stem cell donors and maintaining a registry of potential donors committed to helping anyone in need of a life-saving stem cell transplant. We fundraise to cover the cost of education and awareness about the need for and the process to become a blood stem cell donor as well as to cover the cost of the HLA tissue typing test involved in the recruitment of donors. The Sunflower Fund also maintains a patient support fund to assist patients who are unable to afford costs associated with getting to transplant as well as being actively involved in creating a platform for support structures to assist patients, families and communities.
Every year, globally thousands of patients with blood diseases such as leukaemia, sickle cell disease, aplastic anaemia reach the point where their only chance of survival is a stem cell transplant. “Tissue-types” are hereditary characteristics, which are fundamental in the process of matching donors and patients. 25% of patients may find a match within their family. The remaining 75% are dependent on an unrelated matched donor. Genetically, the likelihood of finding a suitable unrelated matched donor is considerably greater within the same ethnic background. In addition to the understood ethnic diversity of the South African population, the 2011 Census released by StatsSA indicates that there are 2.19 million foreign-born people in South Africa. Research shows that the genomic variances between people of African descent are greater than those observed between European populations. This genetic diversity in African populations poses practical challenges for the transplantation medical community to find HLA-matched unrelated donors for patients in need of live-saving stem cell transplants.
A larger Registry significantly improves a patient’s prospects of finding matching stem cell donors.
In order to continue its valuable work, The Sunflower Fund partnered by DKMS relies solely on financial assistance from its dedicated funders – consisting of individuals, companies and trusts and foundations.
It takes just two test tubes of blood to become registered as a stem cell donor, but the tissue typing of each sample at the required molecular (DNA) level currently costs The Sunflower Fund R3 100 per test. Donors are asked to make a voluntary contribution to this expense, but these costs are primarily covered by The Sunflower Fund partnered by DKMS’s fundraising efforts.
Once the blood samples have been analysed, the individuals’ genetic information is then stored on a global database until the prospective donor is matched to a patient or turns 60 years old, which is the mandatory retirement age.