Bone Marrow–Blood Connection
Bone marrow is a soft, spongy tissue inside our bones. It is the “factory” that makes blood cells. It contains special cells called stem cells. These blood-forming stem cells grow and mature into three types of blood cells:
- Red blood cells that carry oxygen to tissues and organs
- White blood cells that help fight disease and infections
- Platelets that help blood clot, in order to stop bleeding
A bone marrow transplant replaces a person’s abnormal stem cells with healthy ones from another person—the bone marrow donor. This procedure allows the recipient to get new stem cells that work properly.
The Donor Experience
To become a bone marrow donor, you first must join the bone marrow registry.
Not everyone who is part of the registry will match a patient in need and be asked to donate. In fact, the chances of receiving a call that you’re a
possible match are about 1 in 540. The chances you’ll be asked to donate are about 1 in 1,000. If you are asked to donate, the patient’s doctor has chosen you as the best donor.
The typical time commitment for the donation process is 20 to 30 hours, spread out over a four-to-six-week period, in small blocks of time. If you agree to donate, the patient’s doctor will request that you donate either peripheral blood stem cells or marrow. The doctor chooses the method that is best for the patient.
Two Ways to Donate
1. Many donors are asked for a donation of peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). The PBSC donation is collected through a nonsurgical procedure called apheresis. (If you’ve ever donated platelets or double red blood cells, you did so through apheresis.) During apheresis, a donor’s blood is removed and passed through a machine that separates out the stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor. It is possible to donate this way because the same stem cells found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating blood.
For five days leading up to the PBSC donation, you will be given injections of a drug called filgastim to increase the number of stem cells in your blood stream.
2. The other method of collecting the stem cells needed for a transplant is a donation of bone marrow. Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure that takes place in a hospital operating room. Doctors use needles to withdraw liquid marrow from both sides of the back of your pelvic bone. You will be given general anesthesia and feel no pain during the procedure. Typically, the hospital stay for marrow donation is from early morning to late afternoon, or rarely overnight for observation.
Learn more about how to join the bone marrow registry, and help make the next marrow transplant possible!