What is bone marrow?
Bone marrow is responsible for the formation of stem cells called "hematopoietic". In short, these are the cells that produce all our blood cells (red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets). The bone marrow is therefore essential to life.
First, a reminder of the roles of our blood cells:
- red blood cells transport oxygen
- white blood cells fight infections
- platelets stop bleeding
It is also important to remember that the bone marrow has nothing to do with the spinal cord. They are often confused, even though they are not at all in the same place and do not have the same functions. As its name suggests, bone marrow is found in all our bones, especially in flat bones such as the pelvis. The spinal cord, on the other hand, is located in the spine and belongs to the nervous system.
Who needs a donation?
Many people who have serious blood diseases. That is, thousands of children and adults. These can be leukemia, but also medullary aplasia, metabolic or genetic diseases (immune deficiency...). And many others. So many diseases whose origin is a dysfunction of the bone marrow. It is important to know that the probability of finding a compatible individual is one chance in a million. As the number of registrants increases, the chances of finding a match increase as well. Every year, 2000 people just in Italy with serious blood diseases are waiting for a bone marrow transplant.
How does bone marrow harvesting work?
There are two ways to collect hematopoietic stem cells:
In 75% of cases, it is a blood collection. For four days prior to the donation, the donor receives subcutaneous injections of a drug designed to stimulate the production of stem cells from the bone marrow (found inside the flat bones). On the day of the donation, the donor goes to the donation center near his or her home to have a cytapheresis. In concrete terms, as with a platelet donation, the donor is connected to a machine, via catheters in the peripheral veins, which will sort the blood cells to extract the bone marrow cells.
Bone marrow is extracted under general anesthesia through small punctures in the flat bones of the pelvis. The person wakes up after an hour and because he or she has had a general anesthetic, spends a night in the hospital and is discharged the next day.
And how does it work for the donor?
First, you are found compatible with a patient. He is waiting for a transplant, somewhere in Italy or in the world. The donor center has contacted you to set up a date for the collection of the organ within 1 to 3 months.
So, you will be interviewed by a doctor. You will also undergo medical examinations (clinical and blood tests) about 3 weeks before the donation. They need to be sure that there are no contraindications to donating bone marrow.
Then, you file a formal consent. This ensures that you have been properly informed about the procedure. On the big day, you go to the hospital or to a donor center for your bone marrow collection.
Your sample is then delivered to the patient. The bone marrow cells collected from you (called the graft) are transfused to the patient within 12 to 36 hours.
What about the risks?
Beware of false rumors: a bone marrow donation does not entail any risk of neurological damage such as paralysis. As a reminder, bone marrow is not the spinal cord! Finally, concerning the donor's bone marrow cells: you should know that after the donation, they regenerate rapidly.
And of course, it costs you nothing! All medical and non-medical expenses related to the donation are covered, including compensation if the time spent on the donation results in a loss of earnings for you.
What are the conditions to register?
You have to be between 18 and 35 years old at the time of registration (but you can remain registered and donate bone marrow up to and including age 60). Be in perfect health, you can check that you have no contraindications to bone marrow donation in the registration form.
In conclusion, bone marrow donation can save lives, and becoming a donor is not that complicated. What are we waiting for?