Our History

The National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP)/Be The Match®, is a nonprofit organization that facilitates transplants for patients in need of a hematopoietic cell transplant (HCT). We operate the Be The Match Registry®, support patients, educate health care professionals, and conduct research. From very humble beginnings and a hope to serve, to where we are today, our dedication for saving lives has never wavered. Our story started in 1979.

A Story Born of Love for a Child

When their 10-year-old daughter Laura was diagnosed with leukemia, Robert Graves, D.V.M., and his wife Sherry were ready to do anything they could to save her. Desperate to save her life, they turned to alternative treatment options and Laura became the first ever patient with leukemia to undergo a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated donor.

Laura received her transplant in September 1979, and the donated cells engrafted in her body without complications. Laura survived for two years after her transplant, but she sadly died from a relapse of her leukemia. But her initial complete recovery established that unrelated donor marrow transplantation was feasible, which inspired Laura's family to give other families the same hope for a cure. Thanks to Sherry and Dr. Graves, other patient families, doctors, congressional support, and funding from the United States Navy, a national registry of volunteers willing to donate bone marrow was born.

The First 10,000 Platelet Donors Step Forward

At the time, many people doubted that enough people would be willing to donate marrow to a stranger. With this in mind, the early founders of our program focused on recruiting platelet donors because of their demonstrated altruism and because they were already HLA-A and -B tissue typed. This proved to be a successful strategy, and within the first year the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry (as we were called then) was established, an astonishing 10,000 platelet donors answered the call. We conducted our first transplant in December 1987 when Diane Walters of Wisconsin donated marrow to 6-year-old Brooke Ward of North Carolina. The next year, we changed our name to the National Marrow Donor Program® (NMDP), and it wasn't long before the NMDP took off worldwide from a tiny office at the American Red Cross in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Investing in Research

Beyond establishing the registry, we also decided to conduct research to expand treatment options and find the answers that would save the lives of more patients and improve their quality of life.

  • 1990 - Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Dr. E. Donnell Thomas for discoveries in cellular transportation
  • 1993 - First use of peripheral blood stem cells in NMDP transplants
  • 1999 - The NMDP's umbilical cord blood transplant program is launched
  • 2001 - Built the NMDP Sample Repository, one of the world's largest tissue sample storage facilities used for medical research
  • 2004 - Partnered with the Medical College of Wisconsin to create our research program, the CIBMTR® (Center for International Blood and Marrow Transplant Research)
  • 2012 - Completed more than 700 peer-reviewed publications based on research conducted

Leading the Way - Now and Into the Future

Today we have facilitated more than 55,000 hematopoietic cell transplants with marrow, PBSC and cord blood, and now conduct more than 5,800 transplants a year.

As the recognized leader in unrelated hematopoietic cell transplantation, we develop services and interactive technologies used by transplant experts around the world to reach more patients.

We continue making history in cellular therapies, advancing services to speed the transplant process and improving treatments for post-transplant complications. We invest in research and work with researchers who dedicate countless volunteer hours so that more patients than ever before can receive a transplant and have significantly improved long-term survival and quality of life.