Every third Saturday in September all over the world they talk about bone marrow donation and thank people who are ready to donate stem cells to save someone else’s life. This year, World Bone Marrow Donor Day is celebrated on September 19.
One in 10 thousand – so blood cancer patients appreciate chances of meeting “your” person. This story is not about ordinary love, but about the love of life.
What does blood cancer have to do with it?
Blood cancer is a deficiency of all blood cells:
erythrocytes that supply us with oxygen;
platelets, saving from bleeding;
leukocytes that protect against infections.
All of them arise from the bone marrow – the soft core of the bones, which stores the “embryos” of blood. Another name for them is stem cells. If they are “broken”, then instead of erythrocytes, leukocytes and platelets there are many immature cells and the body is too fragile to live fully. This condition is called leukemia or blood cancer.
Sometimes the only chance to defeat a disease is to get healthy stem cells from a donor. Not every stem cell is suitable for a patient, and this is more difficult than compatibility by blood group. Donor and recipient cells must have the same genetic markers. This is an HLA protein, and the probability of its coincidence even in relatives is about 25%. The problem of bone marrow compatibility is so important to survival that a suitable donor may be “discharged” from another country.
How does the bone marrow “surrender”?
The donation procedure most often looks like a long – from 4 to 6 hours – blood transfusion (apheresis). A few days before the bone marrow transplant, the donor takes a drug that stimulates the production of stem cells. They appear in large quantities in the peripheral blood (the one that flows through the vessels) and then they can be taken from there.
Blood is drawn from a large vein in the arm, neck, or groin. Then it is driven through the apparatus, which separates the hematopoietic cells from the rest, and returned to the donor. The resulting material is frozen and within 72 hours it should get to the patient. It is painless for both the donor and the recipient. It takes several weeks for the cells to take root in the new body and work as they should.
In 10% of cases, bone marrow is removed from the pelvic bone with a sterile syringe under general or partial anesthesia. The operation takes about 40 minutes. After freezing, such material can be stored for several years.
If there are no contraindications, the method of cell transfer remains with the donor. After both procedures, stem cells regenerate on their own in about 7-10 days.
It can take many years between the decision to become a donor and the actual donation. The first step is to contact typing center for HLA compatibility. For this, a questionnaire is filled out and about 9 ml of blood is donated. The data are entered into the register of potential donors. The most famous in Russia – Vasya Perevoshchikov National Registry of Bone Marrow Donors.
When a patient appears whose HLA type matches yours, the registry representatives will contact you. If you still can and want to donate, your blood will be taken for extended typing, health checks, and only then sent for apheresis.
Blood donation for a donor is voluntary, free of charge and in most cases anonymous history. The Russian health care system costs 350-450 thousand rubles to harvest bone marrow. Europe – up to 30 thousand euros, and the United States – up to 50 thousand dollars.
It is always possible to refuse donation. What’s more, HLA compatibility is so rare that your bone marrow may never match anyone. But if “bingo” happens, then you are really giving someone a new life.