A match made in medicine: Stem Cell Donation FAQ

Posted on 4 October 2018

If you’d like to add ‘saved a life’ to your bucket list items, you can. It only takes 10 minutes to register as a stem cell donor, and the actual donation process is safe and relatively pain-free. Here we answer some frequently asked questions about stem cell donations.

What is a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant and why do people need stem cell transplants?

According to Ampath haematologist Dr Reinette Weyers, performing a bone marrow transplant means replacing a patient’s damaged or destroyed bone marrow with healthy blood stem cells from a donor. The donor stem cells travel to the patient’s bone marrow where new blood cells are then produced.

“Conditions which may require a bone marrow transplant include leukaemia, bone marrow failure, and certain inherited metabolic and immune deficiency syndromes,” says Dr Weyers.

Who can become a stem cell donor?

Generally speaking, healthy individuals who fall into the below categories can register as stem cell donors:

  • Between 18 – 45 years of age
  • Weigh more than 50 kg
  • Have a BMI of less than 40
  • Lead a healthy lifestyle and
  • Willing to help any patient in need

How do I register?

How easy is it to find a match?

“Family members (particularly siblings) are most suitable donors, but there is only a 25% chance that a sibling may be a match,” explains Dr Weyers. Most patients will need to find an unrelated matching donor. Thus having a large registry of available donors is necessary to increase the chance of finding a suitable donor.

How are donors and recipients matched up?

Donors and recipients are matched based on their ethnic backgrounds and according to tissue types (not blood types). All donors recruited by The Sunflower Fund are tested using sophisticated technology, which reduces the waiting time and costs for a patient with less confirmatory tests needed before the donation process can proceed.

So I’m a match – what’s next?

“The procedure to donate stem cells is a fairly painless one that takes between four to six hours. The procedure is similar to donating platelets. It involves a needle being inserted into both arms. Blood is drawn from your one arm. It goes through a cell separator machine that separates out the stem cells from the blood. Your blood is then pumped back into your body via the other arm.

“There is no operation, no incision and no anaesthetics involved. Before the day of the donation you will receive growth hormone injections to stimulate the production of stem cells in your bone marrow. The excess stem cells move out of your bone marrow into your bloodstream, which enables them to be harvested from your blood. This is why we now commonly refer to peripheral blood stem cell donation,” says Alana James, CEO of The Sunflower Fund.

What if I’m not qualified to be a donor?

You can still help The Sunflower Fund in the following ways:

  • Donate money to help them cover the cost of the tests
  • Encourage others to register with the fund
  • Get your company involved and support fundraising events

Hope begins with you!

Stem cell donation

INFOGRAPHIC: Myths and facts around stem cell transplants

Published in Expert Articles

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