Blood Stem Cell Donation
Every year, thousands of patients around the world are diagnosed with leukaemia and other blood-related diseases. In the past, this diagnosis was often fatal. Today, a (bone marrow) blood stem cell transplant can be a potentially life-saving treatment for more than 70 different diseases. A blood stem cell transplant replaces a person’s defective stem cells with healthy ones. More than 50,000 patients worldwide receive transplants every year, and this number continues to rise.
Sadly, many patients who could benefit from this life-saving procedure do not get the treatment they so desperately need – because finding a stem cell donor with a similar tissue type is no easy task. In around one-third of cases, a donor can be found within a patient’s family. But the rest of the time, an unrelated donor is required for successful stem cell transplantation.
What are blood stem cells?
Blood stem cells are found in bone marrow. They are precursor cells which can develop into any of three major types of blood cells:
White blood cells (leukocytes) protect us against infections. They encourage invading pathogens such as bacteria and viruses and then destroy them.
Red blood cells (erythrocytes) are involved in blood clotting. Platelets (thrombocytes) help form a clot that seals and heals wounds.
What is blood stem cell transplantation?
A blood stem cell transplant is a procedure that replaces a patient’s defective (bone marrow) stem cells with healthy ones. Blood stem cells are mostly found in the bone marrow, a spongy tissue inside the bones. Small numbers of stem cells also are found in the blood and in the umbilical cord (the cord that connects a foetus to its mother’s placenta). Stem cells develop into the three types of blood cells that the body needs:
Red blood cells, which carry oxygen throughout the body
White blood cells, that fight infections
Platelets, that help the blood to clot
You’ve just found out that either you, or someone close to you, needs a stem cell transplant. It’s natural to feel worried, confused or daunted by what’s going to happen next and you might have lots of unanswered questions.
Finding out information about transplant can be empowering and help build your confidence to tackle the situation head on.