Bone marrow donation
A bone marrow donation is a relatively straightforward medical procedure.
Diseased or damaged bone marrow can be replaced by donated bone marrow cells, which help treat and often cure many life-threatening conditions, including:
It contains stem cells which can grow into any of our normal blood cells.
Stem cells in bone marrow produce three important types of blood cells:
Ideally, bone marrow stem cells are best donated from a close family member, such as a brother or sister, because there needs to be a close match between tissue types. However, only around one in three people have a close relative with a matching tissue type.
For this reason a number of bone marrow registers have been set up listing people who are willing to donate bone marrow stem cells if required.
When a donation is needed, doctors search the bone marrow register to try to find a donor with a matching tissue type.
In England, there are two bone marrow registers, which work closely together:
You can apply to join the British Bone Marrow Registry when you donate blood.
It is possible for most people to find a donor on the registers, but a small number of people with rare tissue types may find it very hard or impossible to find a suitable match.
Firstly you will be asked to provide a small sample of blood to determine your tissue type. This information is kept on the register.
You will be contacted if you are a potential match for a person requiring a transplant.
The most widely used method of donating bone marrow is known as a peripheral blood stem cell donation (PBSC). You will need to receive injections for four days in a row to increase the number of stem cells in your circulating blood before this type of donation.
You will have to visit the hospital or clinic for four days in a row to receive injections which stimulate the production of stem cells.
On the fifth day you will be connected to a cell-separator machine without the need for a general anaesthetic. The machine usually collects the stem cells from your blood through a vein in one arm, returning the blood to your body through a vein in your other arm. This takes about four or five hours and may need to be repeated the following day.
The younger you are when you join, the more chance there is of your tissue type being matched to that of someone who needs it.
A bone marrow donation is a relatively straightforward medical procedure. Diseased or damaged bone marrow can be replaced by donated bone marrow cells, which help treat and often cure many life-threatening conditions
Bone marrow transplants are required when a persons bone marrow becomes damaged or diseased to such an extent that it stops functioning properly
Bone marrow donors must have a tissue type that is compatible with the person who is going to receive their bone marrow. If a suitable bone marrow donor cannot be found from family members, doctors will try to find someone with a compatible tissue type on the bone marrow donor register.
If you are on the bone marrow register and you are identified as a potential donor, you may be asked to provide a blood sample. If your tissue type matches the patient who requires bone marrow, you may be selected to donate.
If you would like to become a potential bone marrow donor, you must be 18 to 49 years of age, in good general health and over 7 stone 12 pounds (50kg) in weight
Bridie Burrell was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia during the Christmas school holidays in 2004. She had a bone marrow transplant the following year.