Who Can Be a Donor?
Just about anyone of any race, ethnic group, or gender can become a marrow or blood stem cell donor. The National Marrow Donor Program recommends the donor be between 18 and 60 years old and meet donation health guidelines.
However, the transplantation process has the greatest chance of success if donors are close relatives of the patient, because their genetic makeup is the most similar.
Donors need to take a blood test, called Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing, to determine if their genetic makeup is compatible with the patient. HLAs are proteins found in the outer coating of the cells in your body. Your immune system uses HLAs to recognize foreign substances. Each person has a mostly unique set of HLAs inherited from their parents. Identical twins have the same HLA type, and siblings have a 1 in 4 chance of matching at important HLA sites. In BMT, matching HLA types is how we determine donor compatibility.
How Can I Become an Unrelated Volunteer Donor?
The process to collect bone marrow from a donor is called stem cell collection or harvest. The collection is done in one of two ways:
Surgical procedure done in the operating room, called stem cell harvest
Traditionally, stem cells for transplantation are harvested from the marrow in the hip bones during the surgical procedure. The collected marrow can be infused as a fresh product or stored fresh in a blood bank until needed. The stored marrow is thawed and re-infused during the transplant process.
Today, however, stem cells are often collected from peripheral blood, in a process called apheresis. Stem cells may be stimulated with medications to move from the bone marrow space into the blood stream. The stem cells are then collected from the blood stream. The collected product is stored in a blood bank in a preserved, frozen state.
Before the procedure, the donor must have a thorough physical exam to make sure they meet the donor health guidelines.
During the surgical procedure, the donor is given local or general anesthesia. Then, the surgeon inserts a needle into the rear hip bone, where a large quantity of bone marrow is found. The marrow is extracted through the needle into a syringe. The surgeon may insert the needle into several spots in the hip bone to extract enough marrow for the transplantation.
Because much of what is collected in the marrow is blood, some of that blood is returned to the donor. The entire procedure takes about one hour.
After the procedure, the donor may feel tired and have some pain in the lower back or hip area. The donor can take a pain reliever like acetaminophen. Most donors are able to go home right after the procedure. Donors should be able to resume their normal activities after a few days. The donor’s body will replace the lost bone marrow quickly, in the next few weeks.
Cord Blood Donations
Donating cord blood is medically safe. The cord blood is collected from the umbilical cord after your baby is born. Donation does not change the birth experience. The umbilical cord and placenta are usually thrown away after a baby is born. Donating cord blood is free and confidential if donated to a public bank. Private cord banks for personal/family cord storage are available. Visit the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) site for more information.