Every 35 seconds, someone somewhere in the world is diagnosed with blood cancer. For many people, a stem cell donation from an unrelated donor is their only chance of recovery. However, just 6 out of 10 people in need of a stem cell donation globally are able to find a matching donor. On this page you will find an overview of blood cancer and stem cell donation. Three short videos show you how to register as a potential stem cell donor, what happens after and how stem cell donation works. With your help, we can provide more people in need of a stem cell donation with a second chance at life.
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Depending on the level of maturity of the blood cells in which these malignant changes take places, doctors distinguish between three main groups of blood cancer: leukemia, multiple myeloma and malignant lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes). “Blood cancer” is therefore a general description for various malignant diseases of the hematopoietic system.
The role of HLA types
In order for a blood stem cell donor to be a suitable match, at least ten out of 12 relevant HLA characteristics must match with the patient. HLA characteristics are markers on the surface of the body’s cells, which differentiate between the body’s own immune system and foreign tissue.
The needle in the haystack
HLA characteristics are inherited, meaning they are passed from parents to children. However, not everyone in need of a stem cell is able to find a suitable donor within their family, meaning they have to search for an unrelated donor in the worldwide pool of available donors. The likelihood of finding a matching donor outside the family is relatively low – globally, 4 out of 10 people are still unable to find a match.
Cancer patients suffering from these diseases can be treated with a stem cell transplant from a healthy, matching donor. The transplant of healthy stem cells helps the patient’s bone marrow to regenerate and start producing healthy blood cells again. Stem cell transplantation is therefore an important treatment and for many blood cancer patients, their only chance of survival.
There are several thousand different combinations of HLA characteristics, some of which are extremely rare. Finding a suitable match is therefore very complicated, but very important – since only the closest match of HLA characteristics between the donor and the patient will minimize the risk of post-transplant complications. By transferring stem cells, the recipient has the opportunity to develop a new and healthy blood-forming system. We currently know of six HLA characteristics which are relevant for a stem cell donation: HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C, HLA-DRB1, HLA-DQB1 and HLA-DPB1. These are inherited from both the father and the mother, resulting in a total of 12 relevant HLA characteristics.
In order to work towards our goal of finding a matching donor for everyone in need of a stem cell donation, DKMS registers as many potential stem cell donors as possible. We want to be able to give everyone in need of a stem cell donation a second chance at life.
A cheek swab is used in order to analyze tour tissue type. This can be completed at home by requesting a registration kit here on our website.
2. Testing for tissue types
If you are found to be a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation, this will be confirmed using a blood sample.
3. Health check
A comprehensive health check will be completed in order to ensure you are ready to donate your stem cells and give someone a second chance at life.
4.1 Peripheral stem cell donation
This method is used in around 80% of cases and is similar to blood plasma donation.
4.2 Bone marrow donation
In around 20% of cases, bone marrow is collected from the back of the pelvic bone under general anesthetic.
Stem cell transplantation
The donated stem cells are then transplanted to the recipient, using a method similar to blood transfusion. They find their way to the bone cavities and being to form new, healthy blood cells.
Register as a stem cell donor
Registration as a potential stem cell donor is easy. In order to do so, simply request a registration kit online to complete at home. You will receive a kit in the post containing cheek swabs, instructions and a consent form to sign. Use these swabs to take a tissue sample from the inside of your cheeks, before sending it back to us together with the signed documents. Next, our laboratory will use your cheek swabs to analyze your tissue type, in order to determine if you are a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation.
What happens after registration?
In the laboratory, your sample is analysed to determine your tissue type. After your sample has been typed, your data is stored confidentially and made available in the global search for potential stem cell donors. We will send you a welcome email and a donor card – which you can provide to us for things like changing address. You can now be found as a potential match for someone in need of a stem cell donation anywhere in the world.
How a stem cell donation works
The blood stem cell collection will take place at a specialist collection centre, which has been certified by DKMS. All expenses will be covered and DKMS is there to help every step of the way. In around 80% of cases, the donation is carried out via peripheral blood stem cell collection. In around 20% of cases, bone marrow collection is used to collect blood stem cells from the bone marrow at the back of the pelvic bone.