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  • What are blood-forming cells?
    Blood-forming cells are one of the different types of cells that are present in your body. These can grow into other kinds of cells such as red blood cells, white blood cells or platelets that are vital for the body. A healthy body is continuously creating new blood-forming cells without which a person will not survive.

  • What are bone marrow and the stem cells?
    Bone marrow is a soft spongy material which is found inside the bones. The bone marrow contains immature stem cells which are responsible for the production of the different types of blood cells – red blood cells which carry oxygen and nutrients throughout the body, white blood cells which fight infection and the platelets which help in the formation of a clot in the body.

    Stem cells can divide to either form more stem cells or mature into red and white blood cells and platelets. Though most of the stem cells are found in the bone marrow, there are some stem cells which are also found in the blood stream and are known as peripheral blood stem cells (PBSC). Blood in the umbilical cord also contains stem cells.
  • Why is a bone marrow transplant done?
    A bone marrow transplant is done when a person’s marrow isn’t healthy to function properly due to many reasons including disease, chronic infections or cancer treatment.

  • How is the bone marrow obtained for bone marrow transplantation?
    The process of obtaining bone marrow is also known as harvesting. The donor is either administered general anesthesia to put him to sleep or given local anesthesia to numb the area from where the bone marrow will be removed. Several small cuts, which do not require any stitching afterward, are made in the skin which is the hip or the pelvic bone. A large needle is used to draw out the marrow from the bone through these cuts. This process takes about an hour.

    This harvested bone marrow is then processed, and the blood and the bone fragments are removed. A preservative can be added to the harvested bone marrow, and the stem cells can be kept alive in a liquid nitrogen freezer till they are required.
  • What is the difference between a marrow donation and a peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection?
    There are two ways by which adult stem cells are collected from the donor. 
    PBSC is a method which is used 70% of the time whereby stem cells are collected from the donor blood. Five days before the collection is done, donors are injected with a drug known as filgrastim daily in order that the number of blood-forming cells increases in the bloodstream. The blood is removed with the help of a sterile needle from one arm and passed through a machine to separate the blood-forming cells. The remaining blood after the process is returned to the donor.
    Bone marrow donation is made 30% of the time. The stem cells are collected from the bone marrow. The majority of this type of donation is done for children as success rate with bone marrow transplants for children is higher than PBSC.
  • How old do I have to be to become a donor?
    A person should be at least 18 years of age to be able to donate bone marrow since this is a medical process and the person should be of age to give legal consent. Also, because donating marrow is a voluntary process, a parent can neither sign a release nor give consent for someone who is under 18 years of age.

  • Are there any risks associated with the donor?
    Since only a small amount of the marrow is removed, donating bone marrow will not create any problems for the donor. The donor’s body will replace the removed bone marrow within a few weeks though there might be soreness in the area from where the bone marrow was taken out. The donor may also feel tired. Some donors take relatively less time to recover – 2 to 3 days while some may take as long as 3 – 4 weeks to recover their strength. Typically 2% to 3% of the marrow is drawn from the donor who will grow back in a few weeks.

  • What happens afer the bone marrow or stem cells are transplanted to the receiver?
    After the transplanted cells enter the bloodstream, they travel to the bone marrow and engraftment starts. This is the process where the transplanted cells start producing new and healthy red and white blood cells and platelets. The process usually takes place after about 2 to 4 weeks of transplantation. The complete recovery of the immune system, however, takes a much longer time – up to several months for those who have undergone autologous transplantation and 1 to 2 years for those who have received allogeneic transplantation.

  • What are the side effects of a bone marrow transplant?
    The high-dose cancer treatment makes the patient susceptible to infections and bleeding. Patients also experience short-term side effects such as nausea, fatigue, vomiting, and sores in the mouth, loss of appetite, skin reactions and loss of hair. There may also be chills and fever for the initial 24 hours after the transplantation.

    Long-term risks include cataracts, infertility, secondary or new cancers and complications in various organs of the body such as the liver, kidneys, the heart or the lungs.
  • Are bone marrow transplants painful?
    Bone marrow transplant is a safe procedure although a low-risk of potential pain cannot be ignored. There are also risks associated with anesthesia and infection. Donors also feel tired after donating bone marrow which can last for weeks.

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