Life-Saving Microsoft Cloud Computing
How a Stem Cell Charity Uses Azure to Save Lives
Author: Stuart Powell | Head of Application Development | Formus Professional Software | September 2021
There is only a 72-hour window to get donated stem cells to a patient in need.
As every gain in efficiency matters, we take a look at how cloud systems are being used by UK-based charity, Anthony Nolan to save lives.
Who and What is Anthony Nolan?
Blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan is using cloud computing and Microsoft platforms to save lives by matching people willing to donate their stem cells with patients across the globe.
The charity is named after a boy who was born in 1971 with a rare condition for which the only cure was a bone marrow transplant. Finding a suitable donor in those days was extremely difficult, so Anthony’s mother set up a bone marrow register based at Westminster Children’s Hospital where Anthony was a patient.
Since then, Anthony Nolan has developed into the world’s leading stem cell donor charity, with over 850,000 donors on its register in the UK and access to over 40 million donors worldwide.
The charity’s activities include finding matching stem cell donors or cord blood units to save the lives of patients in the UK and around the world, providing patient information and services, and carrying out cutting-edge research. Anthony Nolan even has its own DNA analysis laboratory and research institute.
The past five years have seen a dramatic transition in the way technology has been harnessed by the organisation to expand its reach across the globe, improve its efficiency and ultimately increase the life chances of people for whom a stem cell transplant is their only hope.
Anthony Nolan chose Formus Professional Software to help them undertake this process, and so began a relationship which continues to this day as their systems evolve and develop to meet the requirements of a continually changing environment.
“Formus Pro offers a complete support service, tailored to the requirements of each client, from configuration and training to system health checks and automated testing. We also keep our clients informed about Microsoft release waves and their implications.”
Glenn Powell, Managing Director, Formus Professional Software
Integrating Multiple Systems with Dynamics 365
The first step on their digital transformation journey was the decision to migrate their on-premise systems to Microsoft Dynamics 365 in the cloud. This was a major undertaking, but the benefits were immediate.
Even after the migration users were still operating with two different systems, one for fundraising, the other for donor search and provision. This was both time consuming and inefficient for their teams. For example, if someone contacted the charity to do some fundraising, the fundraising side of the charity wouldn’t necessarily realise that the person they were speaking to was also a donor.
Using application programme interfaces (APIs) Formus Pro built a single supporter view (SSV) so users can have access to both databases in one place. Thanks to this, the teams at Anthony Nolan will have the complete picture, allowing fuller and more appropriate engagement of all their donors and fundraisers.
Using APIs to Improve Response Times
EMDIS (the European Marrow Bone Information System) is an open peer-to-peer communications network of bone marrow donor registries. Over the years it has expanded into North America, Australia, Asia, and Africa.
The system has to cope with tens of thousands of messages from all over the world every day. It is over 20 years old and so Anthony Nolan, in partnership with Formus Pro, developed an API layer which effectively translates the messages coming from EMDIS and delivers them to whatever platform they want. This allows Anthony Nolan to react quickly and effectively whenever a new donor appears on any registry in the world.
Thanks to the flexibility of the new systems, they can be improved and updated over time as requirements and circumstances change, such as the provision of live dashboards for transplant centres to track progress.
Whatever may arise in the future, the system will always be up to date and new applications can be added without having to shut anything down or replace hardware.
“We knew that we would end up with a platform that was always fresh, that was always new. But it also had an imposition on us that we'd have to constantly make sure we were up to date with all the changes. But that was a good thing, because it means it never gets old.”
Danny Attias, Chief Digital & Information Officer, Anthony Nolan
Cloud Security for Charities
Security is of huge importance to a charity like Anthony Nolan. Their reputation relies on being able to handle and protect highly sensitive personal information about donors and potential recipients of stem cells across the globe and it’s a responsibility they fully embrace.
APIs ensure that traffic is both restricted and encrypted. Having Microsoft Dynamics 365 at the heart of their system and using Azure to run all their services means that Microsoft takes care of much of the infrastructure security.
Built-in features such as vulnerability scans and incident management systems developed and managed by Microsoft make sure their products are kept protected, whilst also making available a range of tools and capabilities to create specific security solutions on top.
Anthony Nolan don’t take this security for granted though. They perform their own regular penetration testing and employ outside validation of their whole security arrangement in addition.
Anthony Nolan has done their homework when it comes to cloud security. Data protection is everything in an operation like this.
Saving Lives and Delivering Hope
“We’re in the business of saving lives directly… We’re delivering hope with life-saving transplants, and if we can be more efficient and go a bit faster, we can increase the chances of survival.”
Danny Attias, Anthony Nolan
Once a matching donor has been found and a stem cell donation has been collected, there is a window of 72 hours to get the stem cells to the patient. Thanks to the new systems put in place at Anthony Nolan, the process of finding a match, communicating with the donor and saving the life of the patient is getting better all the time.