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How can I help?

Most stem cell donors already donate blood. As a blood donor, you already provide a vital service to patients who need blood, and by registering with the British Bone Marrow Registry (BBMR) you could help people even further.

How can I join the register?

If you are aged between 17 and 40 years old (you will need to register before your 41st birthday), are male and a blood donor, please consider joining when you next donate blood. We are also very keen to hear from females aged 17-40 who are from Black, Asian, and minority ethnicities and mixed ethnicity backgrounds.  To join, simply tell the staff when you next give blood.

We use these criteria to target the donors that we are short of on the BBMR. All of our donors are made available for searching as potential matches for patients anywhere in the world. For those who wish to become a stem cell donor and do not meet our recruitment criteria, there are still opportunities to join one of our other UK partners; either Anthony Nolan or DKMS (previously Delete Blood Cancer UK). Donors in Wales may consider the Welsh Bone Marrow Donor Registry. Please note that you only need to join one UK registry as we anonymously share your matching information.

You can join the register when you next give blood, or at the same time as your first donation. We will check that there is no medical reason preventing you from being both a blood donor and a stem cell donor. At the time of your blood donation we will take an extra blood sample, so that for the purposes of the registry we may identify your tissue type from your DNA - the genetic material our bodies are made up from. Please inform the staff at the blood donation session that you wish to join the BBMR before your blood donation is taken.

What happens next?

We will add your tissue type onto our confidential computerised register.

We will keep a sample of your DNA for up to 30 years in case of further, more detailed tissue typing, to confirm a match for a patient. All information provided to NHS Blood and Transplant is used in accordance with the General Data Protection Regulation and all other relevant privacy and data protection laws.

Your details remain on the register until your 60th birthday. If at any stage you no longer qualify to give blood, please inform the BBMR as you may need to be taken off the register.

You can ask for your name to be removed from the BBMR at any time. Please tell us if you change your personal details either when you attend a blood donation session, or directly by calling the donor helpline on:

0300 123 23 23

Patients and potential donors are matched by comparing the white cells in the blood to reveal tissue types. If you come up as a potential match, we will contact you to discuss and ask for further blood samples. 

What happens if I am a match for a patient?

If you are identified as the best possible match with a patient, we will invite you to come into one of our specialist centres for an explanation of the procedures. You will also have a thorough medical examination by a doctor and you will be asked to give your consent for a number of blood tests, to ensure there is no medical reason why you shouldn't donate.

Read more about what happens if you are a match.

This is a serious commitment and you should consider the full implications for both you and the patient when you first complete the consent form and provide a blood sample for testing. If, however, you do not wish to proceed, you may withdraw at any stage.

How do I donate?

There are two possible ways of donating stem cells that you may be asked to consider.

The first, and most frequently used, is to donate stem cells from circulating blood. For the four days preceding the donation a nurse will inject you with a drug which vastly increases the number of stem cells in your circulating blood. On the fifth day you will have a blood test to check that you have enough circulating stem cells.

You will then be connected to a cell-separator machine, without the need for a general anaesthetic. The machine collects the stem cells from your blood via a vein in one arm, returning the blood to your body through a vein in your other arm. If you are already a platelet donor you will be familiar with this type of machine. Occasionally you may be asked back on the sixth day for a further donation, if the dose of cells obtained is not sufficient.

The second method is donation of bone marrow itself, which involves the removal of stem cells from your hip bones. This is done using a needle and syringe under a general anaesthetic in a hospital. Although this is not a surgical operation, there will be marks on the skin made by the needle. As there may be some discomfort where the needle has been inserted, you will need to stay in hospital for up to 48 hours and have a period of recovery at home of up to five days.

Stem cell donations are given in hospitals or at a clinic and you can bring someone with you for support.

After your donation

For the first month following your donation you will be contacted regularly to ensure you do not experience any adverse reactions. If you need to take time off work for the procedure you will be entitled to reimbursement of expenses. These details will be covered in your medical interview when the procedures are explained.

What are the risks?

Stem cell donation is very safe. However, no medical procedure is entirely without risk. Both forms of stem cell collection mentioned above may involve some temporary discomfort in your bones and any small risks involved will be fully explained before you donate.

What information will I receive about the patient?

The identity and location of both the donor and the patient must remain confidential. All you will know is that you are performing a very valuable and life-saving procedure for a person who is in need.