Finding or Becoming a Donor
Patients who are having an allogeneic transplant (using someone else’s cells) need a donor to provide stem cells. Those having an autologous transplant (using their own cells) do not need a donor.
Finding a Donor
If you need a stem cell donor and you have one or more relatives who are available to donate, they will be tested to see if any is a close-enough match for you according to HLA type.
If you do not have a related donor, we will search internationally for an unrelated donor using donor registries. Once a suitable donor is found, we will arrange for the donor to undergo stem cell mobilization and collection or bone marrow harvesting. Or in the case of a cord blood transplant, doctors will secure stem cells from the donated blood.
Becoming a Donor
If you are related to someone who needs a donor and who plans to receive their transplant at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) and you would like to be tested, we will coordinate this as part of the patient’s transplant process.
If you are a close-enough match and will be the patient’s donor, you will come to SCCA with the patient to meet with the medical team and review your role as a donor and the donation process. You will be able to have all of your questions answered at this time. You will also have a health evaluation and will sign consent forms. You can expect to be at SCCA for three full days to complete these steps. Then you will be able to leave while the patient undergoes conditioning.
How Stem Cells Are Collected
As the date of the transplant approaches, you will need to return to have a blood draw, update your medical history and receive a physical examination. There are two methods to collect stem cells. One is to withdraw bone marrow from the pelvic bones. This is called a bone marrow harvest. The other is to withdraw stems cells from peripheral (circulating) blood. This is called apheresis.
We give donors detailed information about how to prepare, what will happen during their procedure and what to expect as they recover. Here is basic description of each procedure. Donors only go through one of these procedures.
- Bone marrow harvesting: This is a surgical procedure in which doctors use long needles inserted through the skin to withdraw bone marrow from the crests of the pelvic bones. Donors receive general or spinal anesthesia for the procedure. Most bone marrow donors are able to leave the hospital the same day.
- Apheresis: In order to collect stem cells by apheresis, the bone marrow must be stimulated to produce larger than normal numbers of stem cells and release them into the blood stream. This is called mobilization. The donor will receive growth-factor therapy by injection. Growth factors are naturally occurring proteins that stimulate production of stem cells in the body. Typically it takes a few days after receiving the medicine for the stem cells to mobilize. Then the stem cells are collected using an apheresis machine: a catheter (tube) is placed in one of the donor’s large veins so blood can flow out of the body and into the machine, which separates the stem cells from the blood and returns the blood through another catheter. Collection typically takes a few hours, and donors are able to leave the same day.
Joining a Donor Registry
If you would like to register to be an anonymous donor for a patient who doesn’t have a relative available to donate, or if you would like to donate cord blood when your baby is born, you can do so through one of these groups:
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing is a method to determine how closely the tissues from one person match the tissues from another person. It is important in bone marrow transplants to know how closely the HLA type of the transplant patient matches the HLA type of the stem cell donor.