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Because patients are most likely to find a compatible donor within their own ethnic group, a diverse Registry of potential donors is needed.

Donating Bone Marrow

What is Marrow?
Marrow is a substance found inside bones. It resembles blood and contains blood stem cells, which produce red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets important for carrying oxygen, fighting infection and helping to control bleeding.

Blood stem cells, the cells that transplant patients need to make healthy new marrow, usually live in bone marrow, but are also released naturally, in small numbers, into the circulating (peripheral) blood. A medication called Filgrastim will dramatically increase the release of blood stem cells into the circulating blood so that enough cells for transplant can be collected directly from the bloodstream.

Why Register to Donate Bone Marrow?
Every year, thousands of adults and children need bone marrow transplants — a procedure which may be their only chance for survival. Although some patients with leukemia or other cancers have a genetically matched family member who can donate, about 70 percent do not. These patients' lives depend on finding an unrelated individual with a compatible tissue type, often within their own ethnic group, who is willing to donate marrow for them.

As of 2012, the Be The Match RegistrySM has facilitated over 50,000 unrelated transplants and the national Registry has over 10 million volunteer donors. In the Puget Sound region, our local donor center has more than 77,400 volunteer donors on the national Registry. There is a critical need for more volunteer donors. Many patients, especially people of color, cannot find a compatible donor among those on the Registry. Patients and donors must have matching tissue types, and these matches are most often found between people of the same racial and ethnic background. A large, ethnically diverse group of prospective donors will give more patients a chance for survival.

Tissue Typing
Those interested in joining the Be The Match RegistrySM must have their HLA (Human Leukocyte Antigens) tissue type determined. A "buccal swab" allows the donor to swab the inside of their cheeks to collect enough cells to be HLA tissue typed.

Donor Eligibility
Donors joining the Be The Match RegistrySM must be between 18-44 years old and in good health, and must meet Donor Eligibility Guidelines. Donors who wish to join that are 45-60 years old may do so online at BetheMatch.org. For questions about donor suitability, contact Puget Sound Blood Center at bonemarrow@psbc.org or by phone at 206-292-1897 or 1-800-DONATE1 x1897. Donors who are not suitable to join the national Registry can help patients in other ways such as making a financial contribution to tissue type other donors. See funding information below.

Steps to Donating Marrow

  • If a donor is chosen for a patient, he or she will meet with a Puget Sound Blood Center representative to learn more about the donation process and undergo further testing. The patient’s physician determines the type of donation that is best for the patient.
  • The marrow collection process usually does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. The procedure itself is painless, because it is performed under anesthesia. But, for an average of two weeks following the procedure, most donors experience sore hips and some must restrict their activities. Even with some soreness, most donors report that donating marrow is a very positive experience and that they would be willing to donate again.
  • The donated marrow is transfused to the patient, whose diseased cells have been destroyed by intensive chemotherapy. In time, the donated marrow engrafts and begins producing healthy blood cells.

Steps to Donating Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC)

  • For four days before, and the day of, PBSC donation, the donor is given an injection of a medication called Filgrastim to increase the number of blood stem cells in their bloodstream.
  • The peripheral blood stem cells are collected by apheresis, the same process used to collect platelets. The donor's blood is removed through a sterile needle placed in a vein in one arm, and passed through an apheresis machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood, minus the blood stem cells, is returned to the donor through a sterile needle in the other arm.
  • Unlike marrow donation, PBSC donation does not require anesthesia — the most significant risk of marrow donation. PBSC donors experience symptoms such as bone pain and muscle pain while receiving Filgrastim.

Why are More People of Color Needed?
Because patients are most likely to find a compatible donor within their own racial and ethnic background, a diverse group of potential donors is needed. Only a small percentage of the 10 million volunteer donors who have joined the national Registry are people of color. Percentage of ethnic groups on the national Registry:

  • African American, 7%
  • Asian/Pacific Islander, 7%
  • Hispanic, 10%
  • Native American, 1%
  • Multi-Racial, 4%
  • Caucasian, 73%

The total cost to add someone onto the registry is about $100.00. Because funding is limited, you may be asked for a financial contribution. Once a donor is found to match a patient, all medical costs of the collection are covered by the patient or patient's medical insurance, as are donor expenses and other non-medical costs.

You can make a tax-deductible contribution to enable more volunteers to join the national marrow donor registry. Call the Blood Center's Development Department at (206) 398-5968 or give to the Bone Marrow Program online. Your support gives hope—and a second chance at life—to patients searching for that one volunteer donor who can cure them!