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  • Donate Bone Marrow and Stem Cells

    Approximately 30 percent of patients in need of a stem cell donor find a match within their families. The remaining 70 percent search a worldwide database of unrelated volunteer donors, who may be their "miracle match" willing to donate life-saving cells.

    About Dana-Farber's Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Donor Services

    On any given day, thousands of men, women, and children who have been diagnosed with life-threatening blood diseases such as leukemia and lymphoma search for a life-saving bone-marrow donor to provide healthy stem cells through a process known as allogeneic transplant.

    Dana-Farber's Donor Services program provides comprehensive services for allogeneic transplant donors, including both family members of stem cell transplantation patients and unrelated donors.

    Our program:

    • Recruits potential donors throughout New England to the National Marrow Donor Program's Be The Match Registry®
    • Helps organize and run donor registration drives
    • Educates donors about the registration and donation process
    • Acts as a donor's advocate, looking out for the donor's best interests throughout the recruitment, matching, and donation processes

    Our program includes accredited marrow and peripheral blood stem cell collection centers; experts who perform donor searches for patients; and the Cord Blood Donation Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

    Our Donor Services program also supports the Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center Stem Cell Transplantation Program, one of the largest and most experienced transplant services in the world. Our donor center facilitates marrow and blood stem cell donations for patients here, as well as throughout the United States and the world.

    Our donor recruitment efforts focus on increasing the diversity of tissue types available and registering donors who are committed to helping any patient in need.

    We work with individuals who are interested in joining the bone marrow registry, as well as those who would like to host a donor registration drive.

    We work with families, communities, businesses and other groups to raise awareness and recruit committed individuals to join the donor registry and host a donor registration drive.

    We also offer volunteer opportunities for people who want to help out at donor recruitment drives.

    Contact us:

    To join the Be The Match Registry®; of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) at Dana-Farber or to get more information:
    Phone: 866-875-DFCI (3324) or 617-632-2561

    Become a Bone Marrow Donor

    Joining the Be The Match Registry® of the National Marrow Donor Program

    To join the Be The Match Registry® of the National Marrow Donor Program as a registry member, you need to be:

    • Between the ages of 18-44 to join at a live event
    • Between the ages of 45-60 to join online at
    • Willing to donate to any patient in need
    • Able to meet certain health guidelines

    The process to become a registry member is simple, involving swabbing the inside of your cheek to collect a sample of your cells.

    Your commitment can mean the difference between life and death for a patient who needs a donor.


    Dana-Farber's donor center is a fully accredited member of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP). The NMDP has facilitated more than 35,000 marrow or blood stem cell transplants for patients who do not have matching donors in their families.

    The NMDP at Dana-Farber supports unrelated, volunteer stem cell donors as well as patients and families facing stem cell transplantation. We:

    • Recruit potential donors
    • Educate donors about the registration and donation process
    • Advocate for the donor's best interests throughout the recruitment, matching, and donation processes
    • Work diligently to retain potential donors with the NDMP registry
    • Build a strong network and inventory of cord blood units for transplant
    Contact us

    To join the Be The Match Registry® of the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) at Dana-Farber or to get more information:
    Phone: 866-875-3324 or 617-632-2561

    Donate for a family member

    When a patient undergoes an allogeneic transplant, the healthy stem cells used in transplantation are donated from another person.

    This donor is selected on the basis of how well his or her Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) matches that of the patient.

    Your HLA type is inherited from your parents: one half from your mother and one half from your father. Just as you and your siblings may have inherited similar features, such as hair or eye color, you may also have inherited the same HLA type. The likelihood of finding an HLA match with a family member is approximately 25 to 30 percent.

    The first step in searching for a donor for a patient is for family members of the patient to get HLA typed. The patient’s doctor will let the patient know which family members should be HLA typed and when this should happen.

    To do this, we will begin with a cheek swab to collect a tissue sample to analyze. It may also be done by taking a sample of blood. Typing includes:

    • Serological typing, which is a broad definition of your bone marrow type;
    • Then, more specific typing is done using a DNA method

    Your bone marrow "type" is designated by a series of 10 alpha-numeric combinations. There are millions of possible combinations.

    If you are found to be an HLA match for your family member, you will begin the process to become a donor. A donor coordinator from our team will work with you throughout the process, which includes:

    • Medical testing to ensure it is safe for you to donate
    • Consent
    • Donation
    • Follow-up

    Our donor coordinators will also work with you to ensure you understand the commitment you are making as a donor, helping you locate resources including access to a pharmacy, psychosocial services, and other important programs.

    If a family member is not a match for the patient, then a search will be performed to find an unrelated, volunteer donor.

    If you were tested for a family member and not found to be a match, you may wish to join the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP) Be The Match Registry, which is the largest, most diverse volunteer donor registry in the world. You will need to complete a consent form and obtain a copy of your HLA typing. To learn more about becoming a member of the Be The Match Registry, call Donor Services at 866-875-3324.

    Contact us

    To contact our Donor Services team:
    Phone: 866-875-DFCI (3324) or 617-632-2561

    Host a Bone Marrow Donor Registration Drive

    When your friend, family member, or loved one is searching for a donor, you may wonder, "What can I do?"

    By hosting a donor registration drive through Dana-Farber, you are recruiting donors for the National Marrow Donor Program's Be The Match Registry®, the largest, most diverse registry in the world.

    Dana-Farber organizes donor registration drives throughout New England at corporations, schools, churches, synagogues, community centers, festivals, hospitals, and on Dana-Farber's own Blum Resource Van.

    It is very important for donors to understand that when they register as a volunteer donor with the NMDP's BeThe Match Registry®, they are agreeing to be available to any searching patient, anywhere in the world. Even if your drive is held in support of a particular patient, registered donors are asked to commit to being available for any patient searching for a match.

    There are opportunities to volunteer at donor recruitment drives as a Volunteer Recruitment Associate. This may include set up and preparation of the space for the donor drive; assisting with donor registration; greeting attendees and answering questions; and helping with event closing. Drives are held on week days, week nights and weekends.

    Learn more about becoming a bone marrow drive volunteer.

    Contact us

    If you are interested in running a marrow drive to register donors with the NMDP, please email Leigh Sullivan or call 617-632-2561.

    If you're interested in being typed for a specific patient, please contact Kashi Clinical Labs.

    Patients and families looking for information on bone marrow/stem cell transplantation should contact the Stem Cell Transplantation Programat Dana-Farber.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Finding a match

    What is HLA typing?

    Human Leukocyte Antigen (HLA) typing begins with analyzing a sample of blood or cheek cells in a laboratory. HLA markers are found on the white blood cells (leukocytes).

    Your HLA type is inherited from your parents: one half from your mother and one half from your father. Just as you or your siblings may have inherited hair or eye color, you may also have inherited the same HLA type.

    The typing process has two steps. The first, serological typing, is a broad definition of your bone marrow type. The second, more specific, typing involves your DNA. Your bone marrow "type" is designated by a series of 10 alpha-numeric combinations. There are millions of possible combinations.

    A potential donor's markers are compared to the patient's markers to determine whether there is a match. The likelihood of finding an HLA match with a family member is 25 to 30 percent.

    How are patients matched with donors?

    Proteins called antigens are found on the surface of the white blood cells and other body tissue. Particular antigens, named HLA-A, HLA-B, HLA-C and HLA-DRB1 are essential to the success of marrow and cord blood transplants (also called BMT). These antigens are used to "match" a patient with a donor. When looking for a match it's important to remember that people of the same race and ethnic groups are more likely to match each other.

    How is a donor found for a patient that doesn't have a match in their family?

    To help match patients and unrelated donors, the NMDP's Be The Match Registry® and other donor registries worldwide maintain a computerized registry that records the tissue type of potential volunteer donors and checks for matches.

    The NMDP's Be The Match Registry® currently contains more than 8 million potential donors and 160,000 cord blood units. Worldwide, there are more than 13 million possible donors and 400,000 cord blood units registered.

    How likely is it that I will donate for someone?

    Doctors choose donors based on what is best for the patient. About 1 in 430 members of the Be The Match Registry® in the United States will go on to donate bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC) to a patient. We cannot predict the likelihood that an individual member will donate because there is so much diversity of tissue types in the population. However, doctors request donors in the 18-44 age group more than 95 percent of the time. That's because research shows cells from younger donors lead to more successful transplants.

    Every person who joins the registry gives patients hope, and new patient searches begin every day. You may never be identified as a match for someone, or you may be one of a number of potential matches. But you may also be the only one on the registry who can save a particular patient's life.

    Can someone who is identified as a potential donor match decline to donate?

    Donating marrow or PBSC is a serious commitment. A last-minute change of mind may be fatal to the patient awaiting the transplant. Most people decide to go ahead with the procedure once they balance all the facts and consider what their decision will mean to themselves and the recipient. A donor is under no form of legal obligation to donate. Individual decisions are always respected.

    Will I be compensated for donating?


    The donation process

    What is PBSC, Peripheral (circulating) Blood Stem Cell donation?

    Before donation, a donor will receive a drug called filgrastim (via injection) to move more blood-forming cells from the marrow into the bloodstream. Stem cells are collected from the peripheral (circulating) blood in an outpatient setting using a procedure called apheresis. During apheresis, blood is removed through a needle in one arm, the stem cells are collected from the blood, and the remaining blood components are returned through the needle.

    What is the difference between marrow and PBSC donation?

    Unlike marrow donation, PBSC donation is a non-surgical procedure, and does not require anesthesia. Marrow donors may experience pain and residual stiffness up to a few weeks after the procedure. PBSC donors experience symptoms such as bone pain and muscle pain prior to the donation while receiving filgrastim (also referred to as G-CSF), the drug used to increase the release of blood-forming cells from the bone marrow, but these symptoms go away within 24 hours of donation.

    How will I know whether I'll be asked to donate marrow or PBSC?

    If it has been determined you are a complete match for the patient, you will be told which method the patient's physician requests prior to your preparation to donate. You will receive further education about marrow and PBSC donation.

    You will then be asked to sign an Intent to Donate or Consent form. At this point, the donor needs to be absolutely certain about making the donation because the patient will begin to undergo treatment to prepare for the transplant.

    If you are a match for a patient, the choice of which procedure is ultimately up to you and your medical team. You may be asked to donate one stem cell source or the other depending on the transplant center, or the physician's preference for the patient.

    What can I expect as part of the PBSC donation process?

    Before: You will be seen by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant at least two weeks before your donation to have a physical exam and blood work, and to make arrangements to receive filgrastim (also known as G-CSF, a protein that causes your bone marrow to increase the production of blood stem cells).

    You will receive filgrastim injections for five days before your stem cell collection.

    During: Your stem cells will be collected in an outpatient setting using a procedure called apheresis. During apheresis, blood is removed through a needle from one arm or through your Hickman catheter, the stem cells are collected, and the remaining blood components that are not needed for transplant are returned through a needle in the other arm.

    For apheresis collection, you will come to the Kraft Family Blood Donor Center. The collection process will take up to five to seven hours daily, usually for one or two days.

    After: You will leave the Kraft Family Donor Center the same day you donate. You will feel tired at the end of the collection process, so we recommend that someone drive you home afterwards.

    If you can, it is best to take some time off from work during the time period when you will be donating.

    What are the side effects of filgrastim (also called G-CSF, or Neupogen)?

    Donors may experience headache or bone pain and muscle aches, similar to a cold or the flu, for several days before collection. These are side effects of the filgrastim (also called G-CSF or Neupogen) injections that disappear shortly after donation. Other common side effects are nausea, trouble sleeping and tiredness. Less than one percent of donors have an allergic reaction to filgrastim, which may include skin rashes or shortness of breath.

    There are some medications that cannot be taken while you receive filgrastim. Please let your physician and/or nurse know if you are taking any medications (prescription or over-the-counter).

    What should I avoid during the donation process?

    You should not drink caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soft drinks) or alcohol. You should not take aspirin or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which include ibuprofen, naproxen, Motrin, Advil, or Aleve. You should avoid taking Pepto-Bismol or other anti-acid liquid medications. Please let your physician and/or nurse know if you are taking any medications (prescription or over-the-counter).

    Does it hurt to donate marrow? Are there side effects?

    Marrow donation is done under general or spinal anesthesia so the donor experiences no pain during the collection procedure. Pain medication is commonly prescribed after marrow donation.

    Discomfort and side effects vary from person to person. Common side effects of marrow donation include:

    • Lower back pain
    • Fatigue
    • Stiffness when walking
    • Bleeding at the collection site

    Some donors say the experience was more painful than they expected; others say it was less painful. Some donors describe the pain as similar to achy hip bones or falling on their buttocks. Others say it feels more like a strained muscle in the back. The ache may last a few days to several weeks.

    Does donating PBSC hurt? Are there side effects?

    You may experience side effects during the PBSC donation procedure. Some donors experience tingling around the mouth, fingers, and toes and mild muscle cramps. This is caused by the anti-coagulant (blood thinner) used in the apheresis procedure. These symptoms are easily treated by slowing down the procedure or giving the donor calcium. Less common side effects of the donation procedure are a decrease in the blood platelet count, lightheadedness, and nausea.

    How long will it take for me to recover from donation?

    Although everyone's body responds differently to the donation process, you can expect to feel tired for a few days after the time you donate and complete the filgrastim injections.

    What medications can I take if I experience discomfort or pain?

    You can take acetaminophen (one brand name is Tylenol) or any pain medication that is prescribed by your doctor.

    As a donor, what kind of emotional impact may this experience have on me?

    You may experience a wide range of emotions, including stress, anxiety, gratification, and even ambivalence about being a donor. You can talk to a clinical social worker on the donor services care team about your feelings and concerns.

    Whom should I call if I have questions after I donate?

    If you need to contact someone once you return home after donation, please contact your donor coordinator.

    Registering with NMDP's Be The Match Registry®

    If I am tested for a family member, am I automatically part of the NMDP's Be The Match Registry® for other patients who may need bone marrow or stem cell transplants?

    No. If you'd like to become part of the NMDP's Be The Match Registry® as a volunteer donor, you will need to complete a consent form and obtain a copy of your HLA typing.

    How do I become a volunteer donor?

    Your generosity as a bone marrow or stem cell donor could help a patient win his or her battle with cancer. Stem cell and bone marrow transplantation provide a potential cure for patients with primary bone marrow failure or with malignancies of the bone marrow and lymph nodes, such as leukemia and lymphomas.

    If you are in good health, between the ages of 18 and 60, and would like to become a potential donor, please contact:

    The Be The Match Registry® of the National Marrow Donor Program at Dana-Farber
    Phone: 617-632-2561 or 866-875-3324

    Why does a person have to be 18 to be a donor?

    The NMDP requires that volunteer marrow donors be between the ages of 18 and 60. An individual must be at least 18 because donating is a voluntary procedure that may involve surgery and the donor must be able to give informed consent.

    A guardian or parent cannot sign a release or give consent because unrelated marrow donation is a voluntary procedure and is not beneficial or lifesaving to the donor.

    Because the patient's physician may request either a marrow donation procedure (which is considered surgery) or a blood-cell donation, a volunteer must be medically eligible for both procedures.

    This age guideline does not apply to family members who are donating for a patient.

    If I'm over 60, why can't I be a donor?

    The NMDP recognizes that chronological age does not necessarily correlate to physiological age. However, the NMDP must rely on chronological age when determining eligibility. With age comes a small increase in the risk of side effects from anesthesia, and recent NMDP studies reveal that patients receiving marrow or blood cell transplants from older donors have a somewhat poorer survival rate. These age guidelines are meant to protect the safety of the donor and provide the best possible cure for the patient. They are not meant to discriminate. This age guideline does not apply to family members who are donating for a patient.

    If I register with the NMDP's Be The Match Registry® as a potential donor, what does this mean for the future?

    Becoming a volunteer donor is a serious commitment. If you join the NMDP's Be The Match Registry® you are asked to stay committed to donating to any anonymous patient, anywhere in the world, regardless of the patient's sex, age, race or ethnicity. You will remain on the registry until your sixty-first birthday.

    If I am identified as a donor match through the NMDP, can I meet the patient I donate for?

    In many cases, after the patient's transplant, you can have anonymous contact facilitated through the donor center. However, each situation is unique, and in some cases (for example, owing to international regulations), contact is not possible.

    Calendar of Bone Marrow Donor Drives

    Currently, many medical insurance plans (in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Rhode Island only) will cover the cost of the tissue typing for registration with the marrow donor program. Please bring your insurance card to the donor drive.

    If your insurance will not cover the tissue-typing fee, we are able to cover the cost of your test. However, if you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to help our recruitment efforts, we would greatly appreciate it.

    Our next drives will be:

    Sunday, July 30, 2017

    12:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
    The Dormition of the Virgin Mary, Greek Orthodox Church
    29 Central Street
    Somerville, MA 02143
    See location on Google Maps

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