How stem cell donation works
Ways to donate stem cells
There are two types of methods for adult blood stem cell donation, plus a third method you can learn more about – umbilical cord blood. What are stem cells?
Peripheral blood stem cells (PBSCs)
PBSCs are collected from circulating (peripheral) blood. Since only a small number of (blood) stem cells is released into the bloodstream, a blood cell growth stimulating medication is administered to donors prior to the donation to dramatically increase the number of stem cells in the blood prior to the collection day.
PBSC donors receive an injection under the skin of a medication called "granulocyte colony stimulating factor" (G-CSF) everyday for four days prior to the donation. These injections stimulate the production and release of blood stem cells from the bone marrow into the bloodstream. Additional injection(s) may be required on the day of the donation.
On the day of donation
Stem cells are collected using a procedure called apheresis, where only the stem cells are separated and collected during donation. The remaining blood components are safely returned to the donor. This is a non-surgical procedure and takes approximately four to six hours. In some cases, a second donation is required the following day.
Possible side effects
The risks of PBSC donations are minimal. Apheresis is a common, regularly used method for collecting plasma and platelet donations. Donors sometimes feel cold during the procedure, so blankets are provided to ensure comfort.
Possible short-term side effects from the (G-CSF) injections may include mild to moderate bone pain, muscle pain, headaches, flu-like symptoms, nausea, vomiting and redness or pain at the injection site. These reactions normally disappear within 24 to 48 hours after donating. There are no known long-term side effects from the use of the drug.
All known risks and side effects are explained to you during a detailed information session completed by the registered nurse, as well as the physician overseeing the donation. If you are selected as a match to a patient and proceed with the donation, it's important to keep a list of any questions you may have and to ensure you're comfortable with the answers as you meet with the various health care professionals.
The PBSC collection method is used approximately 80% of the time.
Bone marrow stem cells
On the day of donation
Bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure performed under general anesthesia. The physician administering the donation uses a hollow needle to withdraw liquid marrow from the back of the pelvic bones. The procedure usually lasts 45 to 90 minutes. The amount collected can range from 0.5 litres to 1.5 litres, depending on the number of stem cells the patient needs. This is calculated based on the height and weight of the donor and patient.
Possible side effects
There are some risks associated with general anesthesia. These risks vary according to the type of prescribed anesthesia. Infection at the site of the bone marrow collection is very rare and can be treated with antibiotics. Nerve, bone or other tissue damage is also very rare and may require additional medical treatment.
Bone marrow donors can expect to experience fatigue after donating. Some donors have described soreness and bruising where the needle was inserted, like the soreness that comes from a hard workout or a fall on ice. Donors may also experience mild discomfort from the breathing tube used during the procedure.
These side effects usually last for a few days, though some people may experience them for several weeks. Most bone marrow donors are released from the hospital the same day they undergo the collection procedure. Most donors need to take one or two days off work and avoid strenuous activity for at least two to three weeks, which is approximately how long it takes the body to replace the donated bone marrow.
All known risks and side effects are explained during a detailed information session completed by the registered nurse, as well as the physician overseeing the donation. If you are selected as a match to a patient and proceed with the donation, it's important to keep a list of any questions you may have and to ensure you're comfortable with the answers as you meet with the various health care professionals.
The bone marrow collection method is used approximately 20% of the time.
Umbilical cord blood
These rich, lifesaving stem cells are collected from the umbilical cord and placenta after the safe delivery of a baby.
Ready to become a stem cell donor?
Register today and be a part of Canada's Lifeline.