National Bone Marrow Donor Program

What is the National Marrow Donor Program?  


The National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) is a non-profit organization that makes it possible for patients, suffering from life-threatening diseases, to receive transplants from matching registered donors. By maintaining a diverse registry of potential, volunteer bone marrow and  stem cell donors, the NMDP provides a means of finding the right donor for the treatment of critically ill patients across the United States.  


What is bone marrow?


Marrow is found in the cavities of the body's bone.  It resembles blood and contains all the different cells in your blood including: white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets.


Who might need a bone marrow or stem cell transplant?


A bone marrow or stem cell transplant may be the only "cure" for many diseases.  Approximately 75 percent of all transplants facilitated through the NMDP (National Bone Marrow Donor Program) are for patients who have been diagnosed with some form of leukemia.  Bone marrow or stem cell transplants are also a treatment for patients with lymphoma,  certain types of cancer, immune disorders and a number of other life threatening blood diseases.


What is the chance of matching a patient?


The odds vary widely, depending on the rarity of the patients tissue type.  This means a volunteer may never be called.  However, if identified as a matched donor, the volunteer may be the only person who can provide lifesaving bone marrow or stem cells to that patient.


When a volunteer matches, what's next?


Once additional laboratory tests have determined that a potential donor matches a patient, the volunteer must decide whether or not to donate.


Before making a final commitment to donate the potential donor attends a thorough information session with his or her NMDP donor center personnel.  Often, the prospective donors spouse or other family members are asked to participate in this conference or to review the extensive educational material.  After the information session and a thorough physical examination, the potential donor decides whether or not to become a donor.


Before signing the "intent to donate" form,  the potential donor must be certain about his or her decision to donate bone marrow or stem cells.  After the donor signs the "intent", the potential recipient undergoes a pre-transplant treatment of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to destroy all diseases.  Because the treatment destroys the immune system, the potential recipient will most likely die if he or she does not receive the transplant.


Who covers donor expenses?


All of the donor's medical expenses relating to matching, work-up and collection are paid by the NMDP who in turn bills the patient's transplant center.


Can a volunteer say "no"?


The decision to participate as a marrow or stem cell donor is a serious matter.  A volunteer donor who is successfully matched with a transplant candidate may decide not to go ahead with the process.  There are legitimate reasons for saying no including illness, the amount of time involved, the risk or even fear.  The NMDP's participating centers will always respect the decision of the matched volunteer.


How is the marrow collected?


Typically, the donor enters the hospital on the day of the marrow donation.  Donors remain in the hospital for several hours or overnight after the marrow collection.


All donors receive general or regional (spinal or epidural) anesthesia for the procedure.  The liquid marrow is removed from the rear of the pelvic bone using a special needle or syringe.  This usually lasts 60 minutes.  The amount of marrow taken depends on the weight of the recipient.  It does not affect the donor's white cell or platelet count and the marrow is completely replenished in 4 to 6 weeks.


Is marrow donation painful?


Because anesthesia is used, the collection procedure is painless.  Donors can expect to feel some discomfort in their lower back for several days following the donation.  Some donors compare the discomfort to the pain experienced after falling on their tailbone, while others describe it as similar to muscle pain.


What is a stem cell donation?


Stem cell donations are becoming more common today and may be the methodology chosen by the transplant team and/or by the donor.


Stem cell donors are not taken to the operating room as described above, but instead are asked to donate in a fashion similar to platelet apheresis donation.  No anesthesia is required for this procedure.


Collection of stem cells requires four hours of donation time for one or two consecutive days.  This collection is achieved though the patient's arms as in platelet donation.  The required amount is based on the size of the recipient.  (A medication is used to stimulate production and collection of stem cells.)


After taking the medication, healthy people usually have no difficulty supplying the required amount of stem cells in one or two collection procedures.


Is stem cell donation painful?


Common side effects have to do primarily with medication given and includes some symptoms one usually experiences with onset of the flu.


How can I join the Registry ?


Please contact us at:


The American Red Cross Marrow Donor Program

222 South Cherry Avenue

Tucson, Arizona 85719


Telephone: (520) 694-LIFE


Copyright 2001. The American Red Cross