A to Z of Stem Cell Donation
WHAT ARE STEM CELLS?
Stem cells are parent cell from which all other cells like red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets develop. They are produced in the bone marrow and thus can be found in peripheral blood and even umbilical cord of new born babies.
WHAT ALL DISEASES CAN IT CURE?
Stem cell transplant is recommended in case of leukemia, other cancers and even hereditary diseases.
HOW DOES IT FUNCTION?
- Umbilical Cord: Ten minutes after the baby’s birth, the umbilical cord (richest source of stem cells) is clamped and the blood from the cord is collected in a blood bag. This bag is sent to the laboratory where the stem cells are separated and preserved. The procedure is safe and painless procedure. Pregnant women can choose to bank their child’s umbilical cord stem cells either for private use or to be donated to a public bank.
- Adult Cells: Stem cell registries maintain records of the HLA typing of donors. When a donor registers with a stem cell registry a sample of the donor’s cheek swab is tested at the lab to determine HLA typing. The record of this is maintained on the registry. When a stem cell requirement is sought, the donor is requested to make a donation of his stem cells.
- Peripheral Blood: In this method, the donor is given a special medicine that increases the volume of white blood cells and stem cells in the peripheral blood. Through a process known as apheresis, two intravenous needles are inserted and the peripheral stem cells are collected are collected through a machine. The machine returns the unneeded cells back to the donor. The procedure may be repeated depending on the volume of stem cells required. This procedure may cause headache or muscle ache which may subside after a week.
- Bone Marrow: Certain health parameters need to be matched in case of collection of stem cells from bone marrow. It is not painful as the procedure is conducted under the influence of anesthesia. Bone marrow stem cells are removed from the back of the pelvic bone with a needle. This is a day surgery in which the donor can return home within a day. However, it may cause some pain and soreness which can be easily relieved through pain killers or prescribed medicines.
WHAT ARE THE REQUIREMENTS TO BE A DONOR?
Anyone between age of 18 to 35 , in good health can be a donor. However, the donor’s stem cells should have genetic markers which are compatible with those of the patient’s otherwise the transplant won’t be successful.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS INVOLVED?
The risks and the complications involved in any surgery like nausea, anesthesia reactions etc. are there and are usually explained by the physician prior to the surgery. However, the pain is only mild and the complications are rare. Donating bone marrow does not compromise your health in any way, because the marrow that has been removed soon forms again naturally (3 to 4 weeks).
In case of Grafter versus Host Disease which can cause diarrhea, weight loss, jaundice etc. since the donor bone marrow contains immune cells from the donor. These cells can sometimes attack body cells of the patient. However, there are treatments to reduce this reaction.
Moreover, the treatment is expensive and still requires research in the field to have clarity on long term effects.
WHY IT IS CONSIDERED FOR CANCER PATIENTS?
Even though high doses of chemotherapy and radiation can effectively kill cancer cells, they can also destroy the bone marrow where blood cells are made.
Once chemotherapy and radiation are over, stem cell transplantation or bone marrow transplantation can be done in order to replenish the body with healthy cells . After a successful transplant, the bone marrow will start to produce new blood cells. In some cases, the transplant may also have an added benefit; the new blood cells might also attack and destroy any cancer cells that survived the initial treatment.
Author: Diksha Kakkar (Yoddhas Ambassador)
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