05 July 2019

Bone marrow donation

Opportunities and myths


Bone marrow transplantation gives patients with many serious diseases a chance to recover. However, today this method of treatment is not very widespread in Russia due to a lack of donors. Olga Makarenko, Medical Director of the Vasya Perevoshchikov National Register of Bone Marrow Donors, told Gorod+ in an interview why it is necessary to donate stem cells, and dispelled common myths about this type of donation. 

"There are a number of diseases in which bone marrow transplantation is indicated. This is not the easiest way to treat, but it can really save a life. Many are still afraid of such donation. I think this is due to a lack of information. Because of the name, the procedure is associated with the spinal cord and with something unpleasant, dangerous. But this name can generally be replaced with "donation of hematopoietic cells." With this procedure, it is impossible to damage anything, it is absolutely safe for healthy people and almost painless," the specialist explains. 

Foreign stem cells are necessary for patients with leukemia (blood cancer), aplastic anemia, lymphomas, multiple myeloma, serious immune disorders. Moreover, in many cases, a transplant is the only chance for recovery. But the difficulty lies in the fact that it is very difficult to find your "genetic twin" – a person with compatible tissues. 10% of Russian patients in need of a transplant do not have suitable material not only in our country, but also in any world registry. This problem can be solved only by increasing the number of potential donors. 

Becoming a donor and possibly saving someone's life is very simple. This can be done by any person 18 – 45 years old weighing at least 50 kg, who does not have any special medical contraindications. To do this, you need to come to a special station in one of the clinics of the city, fill out a questionnaire and donate from 4 to 9 ml of blood from a vein – depending on the requirements of the register. With the help of special blood equipment, a set of genes is established – a digital code. This procedure is called typing.

When the same code is determined in a patient and a match occurs, the donor is considered potentially suitable for transplantation. However, most potential rescuers have been waiting for the opportunity to help someone for many years. If a miracle happens and your cells fit one of the patients, a registry employee will contact you and ask if you are still ready for the procedure. The transplant will take place only in case of repeated consent. 

"The prospects for this type of donation in Russia are good, but we are only gaining momentum. The match "patient – donor" happens once in 10 thousand, so the number of donors needs to be increased day by day. At the moment, there are about 100 thousand potential donors in the Russian Federation. Of these, only 300 people became real. We need all the nationalities of our country to be represented in the register as much as possible. Then the probability of finding a compatible "twin" will be greater," says Olga Makarenko. 

A donor suitable for transplantation will have to undergo a full medical examination and donate hematopoietic stem cells in one of two ways to choose from. The surgical method proceeds very quickly and under anesthesia. The necessary amount of material is extracted from the pelvic bone of the "genetic twin" with a special needle. The procedure is absolutely sterile and safe, and only after it the donor feels discomfort akin to a bruise for a couple of days. The second method is non-surgical: a donor is injected with a medication that causes stem cells to be released into the blood. In some people, it causes a slight weakness and fever, but more often it is not even felt. After 4 days, the cells are simply taken from the vein along with a small amount of blood. 

"After that, you officially become a valid donor. The patient prepares for the so-called "day 0" in 7 days. Before the operation, all his own stem cells are killed in his body. In return, he receives a donor transplant – your bone marrow. That is, his hematopoiesis system becomes not his own, but yours. When the cells take root, a person's life is saved," summed up the medical director of the Vasya Perevoshchikova National Register of Bone Marrow Donors. 

You can find all the additional information about donation, get answers to your questions and even chat with real stem cell donors on the official website of the register. And any healthy adult can donate a blood sample in St. Petersburg and become a potential donor at the City Hospital No. 31, at the Raisa Gorbacheva Institute of Pediatric Hematology and Transplantation or at the Invitro clinic.

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