Stem Cell Donation

Stem Cell Donation

DAP - Stem Cell

By: Cheyenne Moore, Student Assistant

Sam Houston State University Bearkats live by a motto: “The Measure of a Life is Its Service”. In the spirit of this, Student Legal and Mediation Services will be hosting its Second Annual Donation Awareness Project. This project aims to help save the lives of those in need of life-saving blood, organ, tissue, and bone marrow donations in Texas, and educate students on how they can give back to others in many different ways. This 5th blog post in the series will discuss bone marrow donation, also referred to as stem cell donation.

What is stem cell donation?

Stem cell donation is a process where an individual can volunteer to donate their stem cells. A stem cell transplant is usually used for patients with genetic blood disorders or specific types of cancer. One type of stem cell donation is Peripheral blood stem cell donation. “Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation is one of two methods of collecting blood-forming cells for bone marrow transplants. The same blood-forming cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in the circulating (peripheral) blood. PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure, called apheresis. The donation takes place at an experienced blood center or outpatient hospital facility that participates in PBSC collections”

What is the general biology of stem cells?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that have not “been assigned” a specific function. For example, blood cells and muscle cells are two different types of cells that have differentiated functions within the body in order to maintain efficiency. However, stem cells have yet to acquire the signals to “turn into” a certain type of cell. Therefore, scientists can use stem cells found in certain places in the body, such as the bone marrow, and code them for whatever type of cell is needed.

What is the process of donation?

Stem cells can be collected via bone marrow, peripheral stem cells, or through umbilical cord blood.

Bone Marrow collection

When collecting bone marrow stem cells, the process is called “bone marrow harvest”. In the procedure, the donor is given anesthesia within an operating room. “The marrow cells are taken from the back of the pelvic (hip) bone. The donor lies face down, and a large needle is put through the skin and into the back of the hip bone. It’s pushed through the bone to the center and the thick, liquid marrow is pulled out through the needle. This is repeated several times until enough marrow has been taken out (harvested). The amount taken depends on the donor’s weight. Often, about 10% of the donor’s marrow, or about 2 pints, are collected. This takes about 1 to 2 hours. The body will replace these cells within 4 to 6 weeks. If blood was taken from the donor before the marrow donation, it’s often given back to the donor at this time.”

Peripheral blood stem cells

Several days before the donation, the donor is given a daily shot of filgrastim, which causes the bone marrow to create more stem cells into the blood. On the day on donation, blood is removed by using a catheter through the arm. Blood is then cycled through a machine that “separates the stem cells from other blood cells”. The rest of the blood is then returned to the donor. “This process is called apheresis (A-fur-REE-sis). It takes about 2 to 4 hours and is done as an outpatient procedure. Often the process needs to be repeated daily for a few days, until enough stem cells have been collected”

What is the recovery and are there any side effects?

Bone Marrow collection

When donating bone marrow stem cells, the donor is taken to a room recover where they are watched and rehydrated. In most cases the donor will be able to leave the hospital within the span of a few hours or the next morning. “The donor may have soreness, bruising, and aching at the back of the hips and lower back for a few days. Over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen) are helpful. Some people may feel tired or weak, and have trouble walking for a few days. The donor might be told to take iron supplements until the number of red blood cells returns to normal. Most donors are back to their usual schedule in 2 to 3 days. But it could take 2 or 3 weeks before they feel completely back to normal. There aren’t many risks for donors and serious complications are rare. But bone marrow donation is a surgical procedure. Rare complications could include anesthesia reactions, infection, nerve or muscle damage, transfusion reactions (if a blood transfusion of someone else’s blood is needed – this doesn’t happen if you get your own blood), or injury at the needle insertion sites. Problems such as sore throat or nausea may be caused by anesthesia”

Peripheral stem cells

Side effects from the drug filgrastim can cause bone pain and headaches, nausea, sleeping problems, mild fevers, or tiredness. These side effects can be alleviated with anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen. The side effects go away after the injections are finished. Possible side effects from the catheter can include trouble with placement into the vein or infection of the catheter or around the area near the vein. Blood clots are also possible. “During the apheresis procedure, donors may have problems caused by low calcium levels from the anti-coagulant drug used to keep the blood from clotting in the machine. These can include feeling lightheaded or tingly, and having chills or muscle cramps. These go away after donation is complete, but may be treated by giving the donor calcium supplements.”

Umbilical cord collection

While this process is not possible for adults, umbilical cord blood left within the placenta or within the umbilical cord after an infant is born can be collected. Collection poses no health risk for the baby and cord blood transplants use blood that would otherwise just be thrown away. The cord blood is collected, cleaned, put in a sterile container with preservatives and is frozen until needed. Some parents choose to donate their infants cord blood to a bank, which can be used by anyone who needs it. Another possibility is to store the newborn’s cord blood in a private cord blood bank just in case the infant or another close relative might need it for disease treatment.

How do I donate?

To donate or to join a volunteer registry speak to a health care provider or contact the National Marrow Donor Program to find the nearest donor center. Potential donors will be asked questions in order to make sure they are healthy enough to donate and don’t pose a risk of infection for recipients. More information concerning donor eligibility can be found on Be the Match or in a donor center in your area.

Be the Match (or the National Marrow Donor Program) contact information:

Toll-free: 1-800-627-7692

A blood test is done to learn the HLA type for $75-100

If a person decides to donate, a medical exam and blood tests will be done.

Legal requirements

If a recipient is found for a potential stem cell donor, steps are taken by each party concerning the transplant process in order to make sure the donor knows that that are making an informed decision. If a person decides to donate, a consent form must be signed after the risks are fully discussed.

Donation Awareness Project:

On November 8th in the LSC Ballroom, Student Legal and Mediation Services will be hosting a blood drive and tabling event from 9:00am-3:00pm. The event will include registration tables for those that want to register and learn more about bone marrow and organ donation, as well as other tables from a variety of on and off campus organizations. For more information concerning the blood drive, volunteering, or the other resources our office offers, please visit our website at, give us a call at 936-294-1717, or visit our office in the Lowman Student Center, Room 330.