Stem Cell Donation Procedure

On this page, I hope to provide you with an overview of information relating to stem cell donation and the processes involved in the event that you decide to join the register.  A large proportion of people who join are never called upon however it is important that anyone planning to join knows what is entailed and is willing to undertake either procedure in the event of being a match.

The individual receiving the transplant will go through a gruelling regime to essentially remove their immune system in preparation for receiving the stem cell transplant.  A last minute change of heart, in the event that weren’t prepared for what potentially would need to do, could be serious for the recipient.  So as part of my campaign, its important to ensure that I share that side of it with you all to support you in being aware of what would be required.

I am no expert and merely pulling together information from  Anthony NolanDKMS and Be the match (USA) websites  and to provide you support people who follow my blog in being able to find information they need and to raise awareness into stem cell donation.

The Key Facts:

There are two methods for donation:
1. Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection
2. Bone Marrow Donation

Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection

Majority of donors will be required to donate via Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Collection.  In fact about 90% will donate this method, and there are similarities to donating blood with this technique although with some key differences.

Firstly in preparation to support your body to generate stem cells you will daily injections of a stimulating factor called granulocyte-colony stimulating factor (G-CSF).  This happens for 4-5 days prior to your donation day.  You do not have to do this yourself, a nurse will come to your home or work to carry them out for you.

Secondly on your donation day, you will have one needle with a thin tube inserted similar to a blood test that will be connected to an apheresis machine.  The machine looks like this:See the source image

This machine removes the stem cells from your blood.

A second needle then returns your blood into your body via your other arm.

It takes between 4-6 hours to complete the donation, and it takes about 1-2 days to recover.

The side effects from this method of donation are mainly as a result of the injections and can include flu-like symptoms or mild aching, headaches,


Bone Marrow Donation

This method of donation is less common and occurs in about 10% of cases.  It is a longer procedure for the donor, requiring approximately 1-2 day stay in hospital.

Donors are given a general or regional anaesthetic so you wont feel a thing  during the procedure.  They will use a needle and syringe to draw bone marrow from the pelvis (hip bone).  The bone marrow is where the stem cells are made.  After your donation, your liquid bone marrow is transported to the recipient.

Afterwards you may have some bruising, back or hip pain, tiredness, throat pain (from general anaesthetic) and muscle pain.  Less commonly some people experience headaches, nausea, dizziness or loss of appetite.  This will generally pass after a week or two.


Useful Additional Information: 

There is a really good pdf from Welsh Blood Service with detailed information about side effects and possible impact on the donor from the treatment which is well worth reading and available here


Anthony Nolan Stem Cell Donation Animation Video: