Bone Marrow Transplants

Important note: AACHAC is in the process of updating this health information. Please check back with us soon for the latest information. (6/13/2014)

What is a Marrow Transplant?

  • A marrow transplant involves extracting bone marrow through a needle in the back of the donor’s pelvis, a simple surgical procedure done under anesthetic in a hospital. The donor’s marrow replenishes itself within a few weeks.
  • The donated marrow is transfused directly into the patient’s blood sream. Healthy marrow cells travel to bone cavities, where they begin to grow and replace the old marrow.

A bone marrow transplant is considered the only real “cure” for some 60 different illnesses including forms of leukemia and aplastic anemia.
Bone marrow is a substance that manufactures blood components. As in blood transfusions, the donor marrow must be the same type as the recipient’s, but marrow typing is much more complicated. About 30 percent of the people who need marrow transplants have a relative, usually a brother or sister, who can donate. The remaining patients depend on finding an unrelated person with similar marrow. The likelihood of finding a match is much higher within a person’s own ethnic group.

Fortunately, there are national and international bone marrow registries that record the marrow characteristics of people who have agreed to be registered as potential donors. As of the end of 1997, the National Marrow Donor Program included more than 3 million individuals in its registry.

However, ethnic minorities are severely underrepresented. Only about 200,000 potential donors—about 6 percent—are African Americans. According to the Judie Davis Marrow Donor Recruitment Program in Oakland, this means African Americans receive transplants from the National Marrow Registry only 3.3 percent of the time, compared to a rate of 85 to 88 percent for Caucasians.

You can help by registering to be a donor or organizing a marrow registration drive in your church, club or community.

What if I Turn Out to be a Match?
You would be contacted by the registry to see if you still qualify and still want to be a donor. If so, arrangements would be made to have your marrow collected at a nearby hospital. The patient or the patient’s insurance pays the expense.

How Can I Become a Donor?

  • Anyone between the ages of 18 and 60, in good general health and who is not greatly overweight or at high risk for contracting HIV, may be registered as a potential donor.
  • Contact one of the organizations listed on the back of this fact sheet for details about the blood test needed for the registry. Cost ranges between $45 and $75, but funding is available to take care of the expense for ethnic minorities.