NHS Blood and Transplant first in UK to use Next Generation Sequencing for HLA typing bone marrow donors

16 February 2015

NHS Blood and Transplant first in UK to use Next Generation Sequencing for HLA typing bone marrow donors for the British Bone Marrow Registry.

Advance will cut waiting times for life-saving stem cell transplants

Clinical scientists at NHS Blood and Transplant are pioneering the use of Next Generation Sequencing DNA testing to tissue type bone marrow donors and cord blood units.

Following a three year project, NHS Blood and Transplant’s Histocompatibility & Immunogenetics team are the first in the UK to list full-length HLA typing for all prospective donors as they join the British Bone Marrow Registry.

During February, 500 donors typed by this method will be added to the registry, with more than 10,000 typed by the end of 2015.

Successful implementation of Next Generation Sequencing to match patients and donors at allelic level will reduce the matching process from six to an estimated three weeks.

Dr Colin Brown, Head of the NHS Blood and Transplant’s H&I Laboratory at Colindale said: “This important achievement will bring real benefit to patients waiting for a bone marrow transplant. As donors join the British Bone Marrow Registry we are now able to list highly detailed tissue-typing information, significantly reducing the time, and cost, to find the best HLA match for patients waiting for a transplant.”

Most stem cell transplant patients (70%) do not have a suitable related donor and need an unrelated match to be identified through the British Bone Marrow Registry and other donor registries.

Existing typing at registration of unrelated adult bone marrow or cord blood donation has relied on intermediate-resolution testing, with high-resolution tests only performed after several possible matches have been selected. This leads to delays for patients.

In 2015/16 NHS Blood and Transplant aims to register 8,000 new potential bone marrow donors on the British Bone Marrow Registry.

Listing donors with full-length, high resolution HLA typing will lead to higher utilisation of donors joining the British Bone Marrow Registry – with donors up to seven times more likely to be selected for transplant.

NHS Blood and Transplant welcomes all potential donors wishing to join the BBMR but in particular is looking to increase registrations of men aged 18 to 30 and people from Black and Asian minority ethnic communities.


  • For additional information please contact the NHS Blood and Transplant press office on 01923 367600 or via pressoffice@nhsbt.nhs.uk 

Notes to editors

  • NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT) is a joint England and Wales Special Health Authority. Its remit includes the provision of a reliable, efficient supply of blood and associated services to the NHS in England and North Wales. It is also the organ donor organisation for the UK and is responsible for matching and allocating donated organs.

  • The British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR) is a division of NHS Blood and Transplant and holds details of stem cell donors and cord blood donations from England, Scotland, North Wales and Northern Ireland. It is responsible for recruiting, testing and registering blood donors who volunteer to become stem cell donors. It is also part of an international network, performing searches around the world to find suitable stem cell donors.www.nhsbt.nhs.uk/bonemarrow/

  • To join the British Bone Marrow Registry you must be aged between 18 and 49 years old (registered before your 50th birthday) and be a blood donor. Potential donors can register from their first blood donation, when initial medical screening and blood samples for the purpose of tissue-typing will be taken in addition to the whole blood donation.