Professor Charlie Craddock started working with the Anthony Nolan charity in the early 1990s, beginning a relationship that remains as focused, passionate and aspirational as the day he started. “I worked under Professor John Goldman, world expert in stem-cell transplants, whose work led to the development of new drug and bone-marrow-transplant therapies and saved hundreds of thousands of lives from blood cancer,” he says.
“From the moment I started work with him I was caught up in his vision. When it comes to transplants only a quarter of the population have a matched sibling – so there was a large, unmatched need, and he wanted to find out if it was possible to identify adults who could match the critical gene.”
Prof Craddock has seen extraordinary developments in research and treatment over the past 30 years, and he’s very clear about his two main aims. “We need universal availability of stem-cell donors and we need transplants capable of delivering a cure without toxic side effects,” he says. “I truly believe that in the next 30 years we can achieve that with potential stem-cell donors increasing the register, and new financial supporters investing in Anthony Nolan to support research, trials and specialist staff."
His excitement about developing treatments is centred firmly on the patients. It’s clear that he never forgets those he looked after early in his career, when medication and matching were less sophisticated. “People are incredible and it’s such a privilege to be part of their journey,” he says. “We see such bravery and determination, and it’s terrible to have to tell a patient that there’s no further treatment for them and see the light in their eyes go out.
“It’s the same feeling when a patient has had a transplant and then I have to tell them the cancer has come back. You take it personally because what drives all our work is the simple question: if I were a patient, what would I want?”
The development of the Anthony Nolan stem-cell donor registry has run side by side with his work, giving him a unique perspective on how the charity has transformed stem cell transplants in a variety of ways. “Anthony Nolan is an international, pioneering trailblazer,” says Charlie. “I saw the first unrelated transplants, and the challenges that came with those being researched and addressed. We’ve gone from only being able to match siblings to well-matched, unrelated donor transplants and then cord-donor transplants. Gathering stem cells for transplants using peripheral blood stem cells was another major development, as well as being a quicker, easier and less painful method than collecting bone marrow.”
The same blood-forming cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood. For five days leading up to donation, the donor is given injections to increase the number of blood stem cells in the bloodstream. In peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation, blood is removed through a needle in one arm and passed through a machine that will collect only the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through a needle in the other arm.
Cord blood is the blood that remains in the placenta and umbilical cord after giving birth. For someone with blood cancer or a blood disorder, a transplant of these can repair their damaged blood cells and save their life. A cord blood match can be an alternative, if an unrelated stem-cell donor isn’t found. Cord blood contains haematopoietic stem cells – immature cells that can develop into all types of blood cells.
These developments continue to fire Prof Craddock’s ambition, with a constant focus on research to improve patient survival rates. “At the moment, between 40-65 per cent of adults with blood cancer are cured through transplants,” he says. “That’s not enough. I would like that figure to stand well above 90 per cent. Also, early death and life-threatening side effects, such as the cancer returning, are a constant concern, and research is needed to improve transplant outcomes for patients, reduce long-term complications and make sure the cure isn’t worse than the disease.”
He believes that randomised trials could play a major role in this, and points to Anthony Nolan’s IMPACT initiative, which has funded a transplant trial network – one of only two in the world. “This allows transplant centres across the UK to work together to deliver clinical trials focused on stem-cell transplantation, and has already launched four trials using new drugs which look very helpful,” he says.
He has all the figures at his fingertips, along with the specialised knowledge of his years as a clinician, and it always comes back to the people he cares for. “Supporting Anthony Nolan is a living, breathing investment in transformational work, aiming to make transplants as safe and effective as possible.
“In the past 30 years Anthony Nolan has developed life-saving treatment for many patients, as well as constantly investing in research and improving transplant outcome and quality of life afterwards. It has funded a transplant trial network, supported the most gifted investigators, and will continue to play a major role in informing transplant treatment worldwide."
Without your support, there is no cure
This article is an advertisement feature for Anthony Nolan.
Every day, Anthony Nolan matches incredible individuals willing to donate their stem cells or bone marrow to people with blood cancer and blood disorders who desperately need lifesaving transplants.
You can help save more lives today. Every financial donation helps give more people with blood cancer a second chance of life. Without your support, there is no cure.
If you'd like to make your donation over the phone, please call 020 7424 6626. Our phone lines are open 9am-5pm, Monday to Friday.
Visit anthonynolan.org/savelives and help save lives today.
As part of our commitment to supporting Anthony Nolan, Telegraph Spark will make a £10,000 donation when we hit 10,000 shares of this film. Watch the full video below.