Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Bone marrow (Stem Cell) donation....the facts

This is an entry that I found on Adrian Sudburys blog page "Baldy's Blog". I took the liberty of "pinching it" for this blog as it may help to dispel some of the myths and worries that surround the process of giving bone marrow, and hopefully will keep the momentum going for the vision that Adrian had of recruiting more people to become donors.

"This is a video showing how around 75% of all bone marrow donation is carried out these days.
If you want to get on one of the donor registers all you have to do is ask about it next time you give blood.
The National Blood Service provides a bone marrow register.
Alternatively, you could get in touch with the Anthony Nolan Trust.
They can send out a special blood testing kit which you can take with you to your GP.
You then post your sample back to the trust.
Specialists can tell from your blood whether you are a potential tissue match for someone or not. Your details are then entered onto one of the databases.
The two organisations work together so you only need to be on one.
If you were a match for someone who needed a transplant, and you still wanted to help, you would be given a number of injections of a naturally occurring hormone called Granulocyte Colony Stimulating Factor (G-CSF), four days prior to the donation.
This stimulates your bone marrow to increase blood cell production. For example, when you are ill, GCSF stimulates the marrow to make more white blood cells to fight off infection.
The injections are safe and the only side effect I experienced when I was given some on the ward was a slight ache in my bones.
A donor is then brought into hospital and hooked up to a machine called a cell separator.
As you can see from the above video a needle is put in one arm and the blood goes into the machine. The stem cells are separated by centrifugation and flow into a bag. The other parts of the blood are then returned back to the donor through a different needle.
The whole process takes around four hours.
Current research shows that these types of stem cells are the best for curing leukaemia.
However, for some conditions such as aplastic anaemia, stem cells direct from the bone marrow are more desirable.
To get these cells a bone marrow harvest is performed. This can require a two-night stay in hospital.
When I have a bone marrow sample I have to lie on my side in the foetal position. I am given a local anaesthetic and a needle is inserted into the bony bits at the back of my pelvis.
This video is not the same as a harvest but it gives you the gist.
A donor is given a general anaesthetic and the same procedure is carried out but at multiple sites. There is no bone-breaking or spine jeopardising - that is not to say it wouldn't be a bit sore in the morning!
None of these procedures are anything to be taken lightly and do represent a big commitment.
The databases are expensive to maintain so they only want people on there who are determined to help.
Donors have the final say about which method they prefer.
Ideally, it is best to be OK with both. That way if someone is unable to extract enough bone marrow cells, another option for the recipient is possible.
On a personal note I used to give blood but I never joined a bone marrow register because I thought the procedure could leave you paralysed.
That, as I hope you can see, could not be further from the truth.
I'd just like to add that we live in a world that for all its good is riddled with problems and selfishness.
Joining a register is one of the true acts of altruism and human kindness.
Who knows, you may end up saving someone else on the other side of the planet."

(Adrian Sudbury May 15th,2008)

The video in the left hand column is pretty short and sweet, but it explains the process that is, as Adrian pointed out, used now days in 75% of cases to harvest bone marrow for donation to Leukaemia patients.Go on, do something amazing and give the gift of life :-)

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