Donor Frequently Asked Questions

What is bone marrow and who needs it?

Bone marrow is a spongy tissue found inside bones. The bone marrow in the breast bone, skull, hips, ribs, and spine contain stem cells which produce the body’s blood cells. These blood cells include:

  • White blood cells which fight disease and infection
  • Red blood cells which carry oxygen
  • Platelets which enable the blood to clot

Bone marrow transplant is an accepted treatment for patients diagnosed with leukemia, certain immune system and genetic disorders.

For a list of conditions/diseases for which bone marrow or cord blood transplantation is an acceptable treatment modality, follow the link.

What is involved in the donation process?

There are two methods for donating stem cells and each method has different risks associated:

1. Extraction of the stem cells from the bone marrow under general anaesthetic

The risks for donating bone marrow are the same as those involved in any general anaesthetic. More than 3000 bone marrow transplants are performed throughout the world each year. The chance of a serious complication is very low but some people may experience nausea and/or local pain and discomfort for several days.

2. Collection of the stem cells from the circulating blood stream

A naturally occurring hormone G-CSF is injected under the skin each day for four days to mobilise the stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the circulating blood stream. G-CSF is usually well tolerated, although the donor may experience bone pain and some flu-like symptoms during the course of the injections, which usually respond to paracetamol. As yet no significant long term side effects have been observed with prolonged administration of G-CSF to patients but the long term effects of short treatments in normal donors is unknown.

If you are chosen to donate stem cells for a patient you will be asked to visit a medical specialist who will check your fitness to donate in detail. The specialist will be a physician with a detailed knowledge of stem cells donation. In Australia, donation occurs in one of the major hospitals in the capital cities. You would not be required to travel interstate or overseas.

I’ve been tissue typed for a relative; can I now join the ABMDR?

Yes, if you have been tissue typed for a relative you can join the ABMDR if you meet the registry’s eligibility criteria.

To join the registry, you will be asked to complete a donor enrolment form. Contact the Bone Marrow Donor Centre in your state for more information.

I am already registered as a donor in another country. Now that I live in Australia, can I transfer my details to the ABMDR?

If you do meet the criteria and would like to go ahead with joining the ABMDR, contact the Bone Marrow Donor Centre in your state.

You will be asked to complete a donor enrolment form and provide a tissue typing report from the transferring registry.

Why can’t I join the registry if I am over 35?

ABMDR is committed to recruiting younger donors because this will help us to save more lives. There is scientific evidence that younger people make the most successful donors for patients in need of a bone marrow transplant. For this reason doctors always select younger donors if they are available. Additionally, older donors are more likely to develop age-related conditions which may mean they cannot donate. Enrolling people on the register who are statistically unlikely to be selected diverts resources and scientists away from processing the samples of younger volunteers who are more likely to be selected.

I am ineligible to donate blood. Am I able to join the registry?

ABMDR does not exclude donors based on the criteria of whether they can donate blood. However, if you wish to register as a donor via Australian Red Cross Lifeblood, you will need to meet the eligibility requirements needed for blood donation.

Strength to Give – ABMDR’s recruitment campaign is providing an easy way for non-blood donors to join the registry Click here to check your eligibility and find out more about how you can register to be a donor via a simple cheek swab test.​

Can I contact the patient?

Your donor centre coordinator can pass on a card or letter from you for the patient via the ABMDR national office provided you have not included any identifying details.
There are some registries that due to national legislation do not allow any correspondence or contact between donor and patient.
If you would like to release any of your personal contact details to the patient or their family, you need to sign a consent form authorising the release of your personal information. If both the donor and the patient agree to release their details, each of you will receive these details and can act on them or not as you wish

Can I donate more than once?

It is possible that you would match more than one patient needing a transplant but it would be rare that you are asked to donate again to a different patient. However, you may be asked to donate bone marrow twice to one patient if the first transplant did not “take”. After donating you will be retired from the registry for two years. At the end of this period you will automatically be re-activated in the registry system unless you notify your donor coordinator that you no longer wish to remain on the registry

Does it cost anything to join or donate?

The main cost to you as a donor will be some of your time. This will include time to enrol, provide additional blood samples if they are needed, time to be assessed by the doctor and your time to actually donate your blood stem cells if you are chosen as the donor for a patient.

The ABMDR will cover all medical and hospital expenses related to the stem cell donation including incidental expenses associated with the donation such as travel to and from hospital. Accommodation if necessary will be paid directly by or reimbursed by your donor centre. All your “out of pocket” will be reimbursed.

If selected to donate, leave from paid employment is a matter between you and your employer.

Donating stem cells is voluntary and you will not receive any payment.

What are the different donation methods?

There are two ways you can donate: bone marrow or peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC).

The patient’s doctor will base their preference on the kind of treatment that works better for the patient. The medical specialist looking after you will assess the donation method that is best for you. However, the final decision it is up to you.

For more information about donation methods, go to: Donor Information

How do I hold a bone marrow donor recruitment drive?

Australian governments fund the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood to recruit blood donors onto ABMDR’s register. ABMDR is not funded to recruit donors.

If you’d like to hold a recruitment drive to encourage people to join the registry, please contact Lifeblood in your state. Please be aware that all donors must be prepared to donate blood (and be eligible to do so).

Our donors must be prepared to donate their blood stem cells to anyone, anywhere in the world. No pressure or coercion should be placed on people considering joining the registry.