What is the difference between an HSC (Haematopoietic Stem Cell) donation and a bone marrow donation?
Stem cell donations have several benefits over bone marrow donations.
Indeed, stem cell donations:
- do not require a general anaesthetic;
- are performed by a puncture in the forearm;
- are performed in a day clinic (no hospital admission);
- involve a subcutaneous injection with a growth factor over 4 days ahead of your donation;
- takes 2 to 4 hours.
Why should I sooner go for an HSC donation rather than a bone marrow donation?
Haematopoietic stem cell donations come with several advantages for the donor and the blood recipient alike.
- for the patient, an HSC donation helps to speed up the lifting of the graft and requires less time spent in a sterile room;
- for the donor there is the risk inherent to the collection and no general anaesthetic.
How often can I donate HSCs or bone marrow?
Just once for an unrelated donor. But if you are compatible with a member of your family, you may donate again without any problem. As soon as you have donated, your name will be taken off the list of the National Belgian Register, which explains why we need to recruit new haematopoietic stem cell donors on a regular basis.
Requirements to become an HSC donor
Who is allowed to come forward as a voluntary HSC donor?
Anyone aged 18 to 40 who complies with the eligibility criteria to donate blood, i.e.:
- Weigh at least 50 kilos;
- Be in good health;
- Not pose a risk of transmitting diseases by the blood.
Up to which age can I donate HSCs or bone marrow?
You may donate up until age 60, but the registration age is restricted to age 40.
Do I need to observe a certain dietary regime before and after the donation?
No, there is no specific dietary regime to be observed.
Why recruit HSC donors?
To increase the likelihood of finding a compatible donor for a patient with a blood disease who does not respond to any treatment and who does not have a compatible donor in his family.
Does travel for which a temporary contraindication against blood donations exists exclude the traveller/donor from donating HSCs?
Same as for blood donations, travelling to certain countries may act as a temporary contraindication. Which explains why you may already register, but you will not be allowed to donate your HSCs or bone marrow until after the temporary contraindication has been lifted.
Can I be a voluntary HSC donor without being a blood donor?
Yes, but please be aware that blood, plasma and platelet donations are also very useful and most welcome!
Every donation has its own specificities and helps to treat a certain types of pathologies.
How to register?
Simply present yourself at a Red Cross blood collection centre or a blood collection (0800 92 245). Speak to the doctor at the collection centre/point who will take a sample from you, which we will subsequently screen and test. Next, we include you under your donor code in the National Belgian Register of HSC donors specifying your HLA type (Human Lymphocyte Antigen). If your type is found to be identical to that of a patient, we will contact you to arrange the collection of your HSCs.
Do I directly donate my haematopoietic stem cells?
No, we collect a 3ml tube of blood to establish the antigens in your white blood cells. We then include you under your donor code in the National Belgian Register of HSC donors specifying your HLA type (Human Lymphocyte Antigen). If your type is found to be identical to that of a patient, we will contact you to arrange the collection of your HSCs.
Are there costs to be paid by the donor?
Donors do not pay any kind of costs.
Does a commitment apply forever?
No, you are free to withdraw at any time without having to provide reasons.
Nonetheless, this is a real commitment as:
- you accept to make yourself available for the collection;
- you undertake to inform the Blood Service of all and any changes in your health status or your administrative details;
- you accept to donate your stem cells to anyone who may need them
During the donation
Do I need to take time off work for an HSC donation?
You will be handed a medical certificate upon your medical examination as well as at the time of the collection, for you to hand in with your employer. On the other hand, you will not receive any kind of financial compensation.
Do you take out an insurance policy to cover the collection of HSCs or bone marrow?
Yes, the National Belgian Register takes out insurance to cover any physical injury arising from the donation.
What is the risk of the growth factor injections?
The injection of the growth factor may cause side effects in some people, such as pain in the bones, migraines, flu-like symptoms, fatigue. Through the apharesis technique, the donor may experience pain in the arm or a reaction to the citrate.
At which hospital is the collection performed?
In Belgium, the collection of haematopoietic stem cells is currently performed in one of the 3 accredited hospitals:
- Institut Jule Bordet (Brussels)
- Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Liège (Liège)
- Cliniques Universitaires Saint-Luc (Brussels)
After the donation
What is the follow-up after an HSC or bone marrow donation?
After a haematopoietic stem cell donation, the donor is seen again by the doctor who collected the stem cells after 1 month, again after 1 year and again at 5 years.
Are there any restrictions in terms of sports to be observed before and after the donation?
Ideally, you should not perform any physical activity for 48 hours after an HSC donation.
Can I come into contact with the HSC recipient?
No, donations are anonymous.
Can I continue to be a blood donor?
Yes, however you are disallowed to donate blood or platelets for 1 year after your stem cell donation.
Is the Belgian register linked up with other countries?
Yes, we are connected via the Internet with all countries around the world so to increase the chances of success of finding a compatible donor for our patients.