Patient and Family Info

Searching for a donor

If your doctor has decided that a bone marrow transplant is the best option for you, he/she will need to start a search for the most suitable donor.

For the transplant to have any real chance of succeeding, your tissue type must exactly match that of the donor. The most suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant is a fully matched family member, but only around one person in three has such a donor.

Your transplant doctor and treatment team will start a family search for a donor, beginning with your siblings.

If a suitable donor is not found in your family, the next step is to start a search through the ABMDR for an Australian unrelated donor or cord blood unit. The ABMDR can only search for a donor if your treatment team has asked for it. For more information about funding for a donor search or testing a family member who lives overseas, please see the ABMDR Patient funding access policy.

Finding a match

To test the compatibility of your marrow with a donor’s marrow, a small sample of blood is drawn from you and the potential donor.

Tissue typing, also known as HLA typing, is done to check how closely your cells match the potential donor’s cells. HLA stands for human leukocyte antigen. HLA markers are found on almost all cells in our body. The closer the match in HLA types, the better the chance of a successful transplant.

International Donor Search Scheme

If a matched donor for you is not found in Australia, you may be able to access the International Donor Search Scheme, which provides financial assistance to eligible Australian patients who need to search internationally for a compatible bone marrow donor or cord blood unit.

ABMDR operates the scheme, which is funded by the Commonwealth Government.

The assistance, which can cover the cost of tissue typing testing of donors who live outside Australia, is intended to cover costs outside of Medicare arrangements.

To be eligible for this program, you must meet criteria, including that:

  • You are a permanent resident of Australia and have a Medicare card

You have been accepted for:

  • a stem cell transplant by a transplant centre
  • all your family members in Australia have been excluded as a potential source of a compatible donor
  • ABMDR has not been able to find a compatible unrelated donor for you in Australia.

If a matched donor or cord blood unit is located internationally, the Bone Marrow Transplant Program (BMTP) provides financial assistance to cover the cost of bringing the HPCs or the donor to Australia, for transplantation. This assistance is intended to cover costs outside Medicare arrangements and is administered by the Department of Health.

If you need to access either the scheme or the program, your transplant doctor will make the arrangements.

If you are accessing either the scheme or the program for a related donor, talk to your treatment team.

If you are accessing either the scheme or the program for an unrelated donor, contact the adult or paediatric  transplant centre in your state. ABMDR has accredited all these transplant centres.

More information on the International Donor Search Scheme and the Bone Marrow Transplant Program can be found on the Commonwealth’s Department of Health website.