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Our History


What we’ve achieved so far

       Anthony and Shirley                Shirley campaigning              Dr James who ran our first lab

At the beginning

In 1971, Anthony Nolan was born with a rare condition called Wiskott Aldrich. The only known cure was a bone marrow transplant, but there was no process or system to find a matching donor. 1973 saw the first successful bone marrow transplant between unrelated donors - previously, matches had only been made through relatives. His mother Shirley had a vision: to start a bone marrow register that would connect potential donors with people like her son, who desperately needed a transplant. At present, over 3,000 stem cell transplants take place every year. It all began with this legacy that saved and continues to save thousands of lives.

1970’s: The Register and Laboratory

In 1974, our Bone Marrow Register was created in Westminster Children’s Hospital, where Anthony was a patient. Shirley campaigned and fundraised tirelessly, as tissue-typing was and still is expensive and complicated. Her work paid off. The register grew and in 1978 our team moved to its first official laboratory in St Mary Abbots Hospital, run by Dr James. We were also helped financially by the Thanet Round Tablers, who raised money for essential equipment. Even though progress was being made to find a match, Anthony Nolan sadly died in 1979.

1980’s: Growing the Register

By 1986, 14 people on our register donated to patients in need. We also made a major push for recruitment clinics over a six week period. It doubled the register - we signed up 100,000 new donors. In 1988, we became a founding member of Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide. This organisation was and still is geared towards international bone marrow donor searches. Currently 50 registers worldwide are part of it.

In the same year, we hired Simon Dyson as Chairman (a position he still holds today) and welcomed the appointment of leading bone marrow transplant specialist Dr John Goldman as our Medical Director. Unfortunately we were also made to move premises as St Mary Abbots Hospital was sold for redevelopment. However the Royal Free Hospital offered us space to build a laboratory. Simon worked hard with the Round Table to raise the funds needed to build new premises to house our staff of 20 scientists and admin.

1990’s: New laboratory and research institute

Work on the new laboratory finished in 1990 and in 1991, the Duchess of Kent became our patron. In 1992, we opened regional appeals offices in Scotland and North England, followed by Oxfordshire in 1993. The expansion was so successful that we also moved our head office from The Royal Free Hospital to a nearby development called Heathgate. The same year, we strengthened our lifesaving work by starting to build our research institute, with Research and Scientific Director Alejandro Madrigal at the helm. In 1994, we provided our 1000th donor with a transplant, and grew the register to 250,000 people. By 1995, it became 275,000.

In 1996, the Duchess of Kent officially opened our research facility. Working to improve the successful outcome of a transplant, it quickly became a centre for excellence. We also opened our Northern Ireland appeals office. The same year, the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust was founded by Beverley De-Gale and Orin Lewis to reach out to ethnic minorities. By 1997, we provided our 2000th donor. 1998 was a landmark year as we provided 300 donors for the first time in a single calendar year. By 1999, the register grew to 300,000.

2000’s: Milestone achievements

The millennium started with a record achievement as we provided our 2500th patient with a lifesaving transplant. In this year, we also introduced Peripheral Blood Stem Cell collection as an alternative method of donation. Our founder Shirley Nolan was awarded an OBE for her son’s legacy and for the first time ever, our annual income exceeded £10 million. We also identified 100 bone marrow matches overseas for UK patients, making arrangements to import them. In 2001, to mark our shift from bone marrow to stem cell donation, we changed our name from The Anthony Nolan Bone Marrow Trust to The Anthony Nolan Trust. Sadly in the midst of all this growth, Shirley passed away in Australia in 2002. Her enduring legacy continued as that same year the register grew to 320,000.

In 2003, Simon Dyson was awarded an MBE. It was also a year for scientific achievement. Our Research and Scientific Director Alejandro Madrigal was chosen to lead Allostem, a major EU-funded cancer research project. Involving 29 research partners from 13 different countries, it represented a boost in our profile. 

We proudly celebrated our 30th anniversary in 2004, as well as having provided our 4000th donor with a transplant. Two years later, the register grew to 380,000 potential donors.The same year, our fundraising team were also given a great platform as we were chosen to be Charity of the Year for the Flora London Marathon. The same year we were also chosen as easyJet’s Charity of the Year, a partnership that lasted until 2008.

In 2008, we made a pioneering foray into saving more lives by setting up the UK’s first dedicated cord blood bank. This allows expectant mothers to safely donate their umbilical cords, which can be used in stem cell transplants. Cementing our work towards improving the successful outcome of transplants, we also set up our Cell Therapy Centre in Nottingham, which stores the cords and conducts research. In the same year, Deputy Director of Research Dr Steven Marsh was appointed President of the European Federation for Immunogenetics, strengthening our scientific profile. Sadly in 2008, our CEO Dr Steve McEwan passed away. His legacy of hard work and dedication lived on, as that year we provided a record 750 lifesaving stem cell transplants. In 2009, he was succeeded by Henny Braund.

2010’s: A new strategy for the future

By 2010, we knew we were a successful charity, but needed a change if we wanted to save even more lives. To do this, we created an ambitious five year strategy. Taking action, we undertook a complete re-brand across all departments, which included a new website, and we changed our name to Anthony Nolan. Alongside this, we also made the historic switch from blood tests to saliva kits, used in donor recruitment. This revolutionised donor registration, as it meant there wouldn’t be need for trained healthcare professionals at donor recruitment events. People could also send the samples in the post, saving time and money. Apart from a complete re-brand, we secured our largest corporate partnership with Wilkinsons, valued at £1 million. With the appointment of Research and Scientific Director Alejandro Madrigal as President of the European Group for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT), we’ve maintained our strong scientific presence.

We have lot yet to achieve but we’ve come a long way, with over 400,000 potential donors on the register and approximately 171 staff.