Stem cells can save a life of an leukaemia patient
Blood stem cells are cells from which all blood cells (erythrocytes, leukocytes and platelets) are formed. These stem cells can be used in the treatment of malignant blood diseases such as leukemia.
The patient needing the stem cell transplant can be a child or an adult, in Finland or abroad. A suitable donor can only be found among family members for approximately 25 per cent of patients, the rest need help from unknown volunteers.
The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service maintains the Finnish Stem Cell Registry. The activities of the registry are licensed and monitored by the authorities. The Stem Cell Registry is operated on the principle of passing on a gift from an unnamed person to an unnamed patient. It is not possible to join the registry solely to help one specific patient. The donor’s tissue type should precisely match the patient’s needs. The more members the registry has, the more patients have a chance to recover.
Who can join the registry?
An 18–35-year-old person in good overall health can join the Stem Cell Registry and remain a member until the age of 55. This age limit has been imposed because the probability of illnesses increases with age, resulting in risk to both donor and patient.
There are fewer men in the registry than women. Because the treatment of the patient is usually more successful if the donor of the stem cells is a man, more male donors are needed.
You can test your suitability to be a donor of blood stem cells at www.sovinkoluovuttajaksi.fi (also in English).
Obstacles to joining
- Obesity (body mass index, BMI, over 35)
- Weight under 50 kg
- Heavy smoking (over 20 cigarettes a day)
- Chronic diseases, for example diabetes
- Having had cancer
- Low haemoglobin level (under 125 g/l for women, under 135 g/l for men)
- Use of intravenous drugs
Certain regular medication regimens prevent you from joining the registry. These do not include, for example, contraception pills, seasonal allergy medications, or antibiotic programmes. The joining criteria and possible health examination later on aim to verify that the donation does not cause harm to the donor or the patient.
If you want to ask further information regarding your suitability as a donor, please contact the Stem Cell Registry by phone +358 29 300 1515 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join the Stem Cell Registry
You can join the registry here.
Joining requires filling in an electronic health status form and providing a buccal swab sample.
Information on the donor’s tissue type, blood group, gender and year of birth is forwarded to the international BMDW (Bone Marrow Donors Worldwide) search application and, if necessary, to the use of hospitals attending to patients and to international stem cell registries. The above-mentioned entities may be located outside the EU/EEA area. The name or personal identity code of the person joining the registry will not be disclosed outside the Registry.
Suitable blood stem cell donors are sought by tissue type. We tentatively determine members’ tissue types from the saliva sample you can give at home. We will send you equipment and instructions for providing a saliva sample. Only those who have returned the sample container may be included in the registry.
The information you give is confidential. You can send the registry a written request for your sample’s results.
Further examinations for possible donors
If you are found to be a tentatively suitable donor, we will invite you in for further examinations. To define your tissue type more precisely, a blood sample will be taken during the examination. You may receive an invitation for further examinations even after years of joining the registry.
Most members never receive an invitation to donate but it is important that the registry has as many donor candidates with different tissue types as possible. In this way, patients have a better chance of recovery.
Donating stem cells
Before stem cells are donated, the donor is given a medical examination. Both the medical examination and the stem cell collection is performed at Meilahti Hospital, in Helsinki. Blood stem cells are transferred to the patient in a hospital. Healthy stem cells transferred to the patient initiate the normal formation of blood cells, through which the patient can heal.
Blood stem cells can be donated in two ways: From the bloodstream or from the bone marrow.
Collection from the blood stream: Blood stem cells can be transferred from the bone marrow to the bloodstream by means of growth factor injections. This growth factor is found in small concentrations in the body under normal circumstances. The injections are given over 4–5 consecutive days.
Collection takes 5–6 hours at a time and is performed over one or two consecutive days. Blood stem cells are collected from the bend of the elbow
and the procedure requires no anaesthesia or overnight stay in hospital.
Collection from the bone marrow: Collection of blood stem cells from the bone marrow is performed under general anaesthesia. Bone marrow is withdrawn from inside the pelvic bones (above both buttocks) with a needle, in small amounts totalling 300 to 1,200 ml.
Collection lasts 1–1.5 hours. The donor is discharged on the day following the donation.
Recovery and risks
Collection from the blood stream: Collection of stem cells from blood does not notably lower the haemoglobin of the donor. The growth factor treatment may cause pain when the cell volume of the bone marrow increases. If necessary, these pains can be treated with standard pain killers.
The donor will be on sick leave for the duration of the growth factor treatment and collection of stem cells, in most cases, for approximately a week. The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service will pay the costs incurred through sick leave. There is no need for sick leave after the collection.
Collection from the bone marrow: The donor's haemoglobin level falls temporarily but will return to normal within a few weeks. Collection areas may be tender for approximately a week after the donation. A few needle marks will be visible on the skin, constituting a slight and usually temporary cosmetic problem. Some donors feel tired for a few days after the donation.
The donor will be on sick leave for approximately a week after the bone marrow donation. The Finnish Red Cross Blood Service will pay the costs incurred through sick leave.
The donor is insured
The Finnish Stem Cell Registry will take care of the extensive insurance cover required for a stem cell donor. No fee is paid for donation of blood stem cells. All direct costs caused by the donation, such as accommodation and travel costs and loss of earnings, will be compensated.
Commitment and voluntariness
Donation of stem cells is voluntary and the donor can resign from the registry. Persons selected as donors have the right to revoke their consent at any time prior to donation, but the decision should be made in good time. Cancelling donation at the last moment will most likely lead to loss of the patient.
We hope that each person joining the register arrives at the decision to do so independently and only after careful consideration.