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Wanted: Adult Stem Cell Donors

The Washington Post, August 18, 2009

If you are between the ages of 18 and 60, in good health, and would like to do a good deed, the "Be The Match" registry would like to solicit the donation of your adult stem cells.

Operated by the National Marrow Donor Program, the Be The Match registry is the largest in the world, arranging approximately 4,300 transplants a year. Although originally begun for bone marrow donations, the registry has now expanded to include adult stem cell donations, for which the process is relatively simple, quick, and provides a valuable, life-saving service to others.

Upon signing up, new registrants will receive a collection kit in the mail, with which a swab of cheek cells may be collected and returned to the registry. Those registrants who are identified as a potential match will then be contacted for further testing.

Of particular interest to the registry are the type of adult stem cells known as hematopoietic stem cells, which are found in umbilical cord blood, peripheral blood, and bone marrow. Umbilical cord blood is the most easily collected, as it can be cryogenically stored immediately after a child's birth. Bone marrow donation is the most difficult to collect, since it must be surgically extracted under general anesthesia, a process which is contraindicated in many patients who are already weakened by age or disease. The collection of adult stem cells from peripheral blood is performed by a process known as apheresis, in which blood that is removed from one arm is passed through an apparatus that extracts the stem cells and then returns the remaining blood cells to the other arm.

Currently approximately 60% of the registry's transplant procedures involve adult stem cells that are derived from peripheral blood, while 20% of the procedures use adult stem cells derived from umbilical cord blood, and the remaining 20% of the procedures involve bone marrow.

As described on the website of the registry, "Donors never pay for donating and are never paid to donate. All medical costs are paid by the patient's medical insurance or by the patient, sometimes with assistance from the National Marrow Donor Program (NMDP)." Nevertheless, the website also adds that, "The total cost to add a new member to the Be The Match Registry is about $100. This includes the cost of the testing needed to match donors to searching patients and related costs."

Individuals interested in donating their cells to the registry, or in finding a match for their own medical needs, may obtain more information at www.marrow.org.



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