Bone Marrow and Blood Stem Cell Donation
Donating bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells can save a life. Here’s an overview of these two procedures.
Bone marrow is the spongy tissue inside large bones. It contains immature “stem cells.” Stem cells mature to become red blood cells that carry oxygen, white blood cells that help fight infection and platelets that help stop bleeding.
A bone marrow or stem cell transplant is a procedure in which someone’s diseased marrow is replaced with healthy marrow from a donor.In peripheral blood stem cell donation, a donor gives healthy blood stem cells taken from a vein.
Certain types of leukemia or lymphoma may be cured by bone marrow transplant (BMT) or peripheral blood stem cell transplant (PBSCT). If you become a bone marrow or stem cell donor, your healthy bone marrow or blood will be given to someone with diseased marrow. This could save a life.
What is the difference between a bone marrow transplant and a stem cell transplant?
In a bone marrow transplant, the stem cells are taken from bone marrow. In a stem cell transplant, the stem cells are taken from blood samples. Which procedure is used depends on many factors.
You can donate bone marrow or stem cells to a specific recipient, such as a friend or relative, or you can donate to a stranger.
Who can donate?
Healthy volunteers who have no major medical problems can donate bone marrow or stem cells. Before donating, you will have to see your doctor for a checkup and answer questions about your health. The questions are designed to screen out people with a high risk of infected blood. Similar questions are used to screen people who donate blood.
How do you donate bone marrow or stem cells?
You can start by joining the registry at the National Marrow Donor Program, which lists all the willing donors. Doctors are able to look on that registry to see if you have the needed blood type.
- Peripheral stem cell donation: Normally you have a small number of blood-forming stem cells circulating in your blood. To donate peripheral stem cells, you are given daily injections over four days to increase the number of circulating stem cells. This is done in an outpatient setting. To harvest the peripheral stems cells, a needle is inserted into an arm vein. Blood is removed and passes through a cell separator machine that removes the stem cells. The rest of your blood is returned immediately to your body. In four to six weeks, the number of blood-forming cells goes back down to normal.
- Bone marrow donation: The process of donating bone marrow is considered surgery and is usually done as an outpatient procedure in a hospital. After you’re put to sleep (using general anesthesia), a special needle is used to get the marrow from your hip bone. In four to six weeks, the bone marrow grows back.
Donating bone marrow or peripheral stem cells takes a few hours. After the procedure, you are monitored and go home the same day or the following morning.
What are the risks?
Like any other surgery, the common risks of bone marrow donation are infection and bleeding. You may need a blood transfusion (if you donated your own blood before the surgery, you will receive that blood first). There is also a very small risk of injuring other organs. Other risks, including death, are very rare.
The risk of serious side effects from peripheral blood stem cell donation is very small (less than 1 percent). There are also risks associated with the medication given to increase stem cells. All risks and side effects are explained to you when you give consent for either procedure.
Donating bone marrow or stem cells to save someone’s life can be very rewarding. Start by talking to your doctor to be sure you are a candidate.