Stem cell donation can be an overwhelming topic for those considering it. However, the procedure itself is often simple to undergo. Here are the key aspects associated with the the stem cell donation process.
The Facts About Stem Cell Donation
In This Article:
Where Are Stem Cells Used?
There are wide range of reasons to consider a stem cell donation. It can be for the donor’s own stem cell transplant procedure. This arises if a patient develops a condition that causes cell destruction. Blood cell destruction is commonly associated with illnesses such as aplastic anemia, although chemotherapy and similar treatments can also damage blood cells.
A loved one in need is another common reason for stem cell donation. Some people also donate to help a stranger if they are identified to be genetically matched.
Stem Cell Donor Requirements
Not everyone can participate in stem cell donation, because the safety of the donor is the first priority. Be the Match, a bone marrow registry, has a stem cell donation age limit of over 60 years old. The ideal age to donate is from 18 to 44 years old. The main reason is to minimize stem cell donation risks due to age.
For bone marrow stem cell transplant procedures, there is no minimum height and weight. However, there is a maximum bone marrow donation weight requirement. Be the Match has these guidelines.
Geography can also play a role, and so do government regulations and even politics. Take, for example, the differences in cord blood banking across the world.
Individuals with conditions causing abnormal blood cells are also not viable donors. Sometimes patients try to donate for their own future use, but may have a disease that is already terminal or which has become too widespread.
In addition, the stem cell donation process can weaken someone with an existing illness or condition. Whether the donors are hoping to help someone else or themselves can be immaterial. A doctor may reject a donor with heart disease, organ disorders, or diabetes.
Is It Painful to Donate Stem Cells?
It is natural to worry about how intrusive or painful the stem cell donation process can be. The pain or discomfort level can vary between individuals.
One of the most common procedures, donating bone marrow, is minimally painful. The pain associated with this donation process is reduced by using anesthesia and is an outpatient procedure, although some individuals do experience discomfort or pain when the doctor provides the anesthesia.
Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation
Also known as a PBSCT procedure, peripheral blood stem cell donation is another method of collecting blood-forming cells. Instead of collecting stem cells from the bone marrow, this approach collects them from the bloodstream.
Although the actual stem cell donation process is similar to donating blood, there is one big difference. The procedure needs preparation, in which the donor receives injections of a specific drug at least five days before the stem cell collection.
The peripheral blood stem cell donor procedure then happens at a hospital clinic or blood draw center. A technician inserts a needle into the arm. This needle extracts blood from a vein. The blood goes into a machine that processes the blood, extracting the stem cells. As it happens, the blood re-enters the body via a second needle in the patient’s other arm.
The peripheral blood stem cell donation procedures take about four hours, and there can be some discomfort after the procedure, including dizziness, coldness, and hand cramps. However, the overall PBSC donation risks are minimal, and nurses are trained to monitor the condition of the donor and make them feel as comfortable as possible.
In some cases, a donor may not be able to contribute stem cells through an arm injection, which can happens if there are problems with locating a usable vein. For these donors, the doctor can insert a catheter in the chest or neck area. For this type of stem cell donation, the medical team administers a local anesthesia.
Preparing for the Donation Process
Donors need to keep their schedules light about a week before the stem cell donation process. As mentioned, the donor will receive shots for several days before the donation. These shots promote the production of stem cells.
The donor may also set aside at least a day or two to recover. Some people experience fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and bone aches. These side effects last only a few days.
Is There a Recovery Period?
Generally, the outpatient procedure does not leave any lasting effects. The donor can return home. They may not be advised to drive or go home alone, though.
Most people notice nothing unusual during the recovery period. In rare cases, anemia may result. The donor can report any signs of weakness or fatigue to the doctor.
If the stem cell donation procedure used a catheter, the patient may need to stay overnight in the hospital.
Bone Marrow Donation
More stem cells concentrate in the bone marrow. For that reason, some conditions require a donation directly from a bone. The hip bone is often the preferred place from which to extract bone marrow.
From the donor’s point of view, preparation for the procedure is minimal. The donor goes into a deep sleep during the procedure, which takes place in an operating room. The donor does not feel pain.
The surgeon extracts bone marrow through a large needle. Often, this extraction happens several times during a single session. The procedure lasts one or two hours. The donor often goes home the same day.
The recovery may be longer for this procedure than for a peripheral blood stem cell donation. It can take a couple of weeks for bone marrow donors to feel completely re-energized, because technicians may take as much as 10% of the donor’s marrow.
Pain and soreness usually disappear by the third day after donation. During this period, the donor may notice bruising or trouble walking. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen often helps with these symptoms.
A bone marrow stem cell donation is a surgical procedure, so donation risks do exist, including the potential for an allergic reaction to general anesthesia. Infection is also possible, as is bone or muscle damage, although these complications are very rare.
Before considering stem cell donation, talk about the procedure with your doctor. Share your concerns and questions about stem cell donation. Discuss both advantages and disadvantages of bone marrow versus peripheral blood stem cells. Get to know the stem cell donor requirements. It is a life-changing decision, so it requires preparation.
Would you consider stem cell donation? Share your thoughts about it in the comments below.