Finding or Becoming a Donor

Blood and Marrow Transplant Donors

People who are having an allogeneic transplant (using someone else’s cells) need a donor to provide stem cells. Those having an autologous transplant (using their own cells) do not need a donor (or may not have found a donor).

Dr. Colleen Delaney describes what a cord blood transplant is – a transplant that uses umbilical cord blood as its source of blood forming stem cells.

Finding a Blood and Marrow Donor

If you need a donor and you have one or more relatives who are available and willing to donate, they will be tested to see if any is a close-enough match for you according to HLA typing. If you do not have a matched related donor, we will search internationally for a matched unrelated donor using international donor registries.

If a match cannot be found using the donor registries, you will very likely be able to receive a haploidentical transplant (using a half-matched family member) or a cord blood transplant (using an unrelated donor). Today, lack of a donor is rarely a limitation to bone marrow transplantation. 

Once a suitable donor is found, we will arrange for the donor to undergo stem cell mobilization and collection or bone marrow harvesting—or in the case of a cord blood transplant, physicians will secure stem cells from the donated blood.

Becoming a Blood and Marrow Donor

If you are related to someone who needs a donor and who plans to receive a transplant at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center and you would like to be tested, we will coordinate this as part of the patient’s transplant process.

If you are a close-enough match and will be the donor, you will come to Fred Hutch with the patient to meet with the medical team and review your role as a donor and the donation process. You will be able to have all of your questions answered at this time. You will also have a health evaluation and will sign consent forms. You can expect to be at Fred Hutch for three full days to complete these steps. Then you will be able to leave while the patient undergoes conditioning, which are treatments to prepare patients for a stem cell transplantation.

How Your Stem Cells Are Obtained

As the date of the transplant approaches, you (the donor) will need to return to have a blood draw, update your medical history, and have a physical examination.

There are two methods to obtain stem cells. One is to withdraw bone marrow from your pelvic bone, called bone marrow harvesting. The other is to collect stems cells from your peripheral (circulating) blood using a method called apheresis.

We give donors detailed information about how to prepare, what will happen during their procedure, and what to expect as they recover. Here is basic description of each procedure. Donors go through only one of these procedures.

  • Bone marrow harvesting: This is a surgical procedure in which physicians use long needles inserted through the skin to withdraw bone marrow from the crests of the pelvic bones. Donors receive general or spinal anesthesia for the procedure.
  • Apheresis: In order to collect stem cells by apheresis, your bone marrow is stimulated to produce more stem cells than normal and to release them into your bloodstream. This is called stem cell mobilization. You receive an injection of growth factors, naturally occurring proteins that stimulate stem cell production. A few days later, your stem cells are collected using a machine similar to those used for blood donation at blood banks. A catheter (tube) is placed in one of your large veins so blood can flow out of your body and into the machine, which separates the stem cells from the blood and returns the blood to your body through another catheter. Collection typically takes a few hours, and donors leave the same day.

Family and Friends Can Join a Donor Registry

If you have family or friends who are not a match for you, but still want to be an anonymous donor for someone else who doesn't have a matched relative available to donate, or if you would like to donate cord blood when your baby is born, you can do so through one of these groups:

Blood and Marrow Donor News

All news
A giant in BMT survivorship Dr. Mary Flowers steps down from leading Fred Hutch BMT Long-Term Follow-Up program December 15, 2022
Remembering transplant immunologist Dr. John Hansen Physician-scientist defined rules for matching bone marrow transplant donors and patients, was a founding father of volunteer donor registries August 6, 2019
The legacy of a pioneering transplant immunologist ‘So much to be learned’: Dr. John Hansen reflects on the lives he’s saved and the answers still to come July 11, 2018