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Questions and Answers

These questions and answers have proved useful on our previous website, so we have reproduced them again here.  If you have any specific question then please e-mail and we will try our best to answer it.

How do I Register?

General Criteria

  • Age 18 - 40: health and circumstances permitting, you remain on the Register until your 61st birthday, so don't be put off joining if you are close to 40. 

  • In general good health.

  • Weight over 51kg / 8st, although this lower limit is reduced for donors from some ethnic groups to 48 kg / 7.5st

  • Women must not be pregnant.

  • Women with children under the age of 12 months cannot join the register or donate marrow during that time.


The process is very straightforward and simple.  There is a medical form to fill out, which is thoroughly checked.  Then the individual is counselled about the simple Bone Marrow procedure that is undertaken, if you are ever found to be a matching donor for a sufferer.  Then finally a small blood sample is taken by a trained and skilled Phlebotomist, which will put you on the register.  Please feel free to ask them any questions about how they are going to draw your blood sample. (All of the needles, syringes and containers are new and sterile)

Once on The Anthony Nolan bone marrow register the next step is to wait until you possibly match a patient.  The donor must keep The Anthony Nolan Trust up to date on any change of address or contact details.  This is the register that searches worldwide for patients, is responsible for all the donors and must have an up to date register to speed up the process of finding matches for patients.  Anthony Nolan will contact you to arrange for further blood samples to be taken should you ever match a patient.

We would like to inform and remind people that becoming a Bone Marrow donor is a serious decision because patients know their chances of finding a match are so slim.  Therefore when the database finds a match and the person cannot be found, or is but changes their mind about donating, it can take a heavy toll on the suffering patient.

If you are selected as a match for a patient, you will then undergo a thorough physical exam as well as counselling or other intervention to assist you in making the decision to donate.

Bone Marrow is a blood like liquid, which can be donated by one person and transplanted into another person in a simple procedure.  Only 2 percent of the donor's marrow is donated to the sufferer.  A person’s Bone Marrow type is an inherited characteristic and the chance of finding a matching donor for a patient is GREATER if the donor is from the same Racial/Ethnic background.

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If I end up becoming a donor, how do I donate?

The donation procedure itself takes place under a general anesthesia and generally takes about 45 minutes to an hour. About 2-3% of your bone marrow is removed, a few tablespoons at a time, through a small incision in your hip. (not the spinal area)  The removed bone marrow fluid will fully replace itself within 3 weeks (21 days) of the procedure.  Most donors experience mild back pain for a few days following the surgery and some fatigue.  It's worth noting, though, that most donors say they would donate again if asked.

The alternative is where the Marrow can be donated in its purest form as stem cells in a procedure called a Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) Harvest.  This method is less intrusive
.  The donor receives five daily injections of G-CSF (granulocyte-colony stimulating factor).  This boosts the production of certain white cells and encourages blood stem cells to move from the bone marrow, where they are made, into the circulating blood stream.  The daily injections are given in the donor's home or workplace by a visiting specialist nurse - all arranged by Anthony Nolan.

The harvest itself is performed as an out-patient procedure.  The donor's blood is removed through a cannula placed in a vein in one arm and passed through a blood separator machine, in a process known as an apheresis machine.  This separates the stem cells from the remaining blood, which is returned to the donor through a cannula in the other arm.  This process requires one or sometimes two collections on successive days : each take 3-4 hours.  Flu-like symptoms can be experienced during the period G-CSF is being adminstered, but these resolve quickly after the collection and donors can generally resume their normal routine inside 24 hours.  The donor may also experience discomfort where the needle is inserted and a temporary tingling in the body from the anticoagulant used to keep the cells from clotting.

All blood stem cells donations from Anthony Nolan donor volunteers take place at one of the specialised centres in London.  The blood stem cells collected are carried by a personal courier to the patient's transplant centre, all organised by Anthony Nolan.  All the donor's loss of earnings and travel expenses are covered by Anthony Nolan.

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Why are Black donors especially needed?

When a person volunteers to be a donor, his/her particular blood tissue traits as determined by blood test are recorded in the Registry.  Because tissue types are inherited, similar to hair or eye colour, it is more likely that a person needing a marrow transplant will find a donor in another family member.  This, however, happens only 30% of the time.  Next the UK database is searched for an unrelated individual who is a close match.  It is more likely that a donor who comes from the same racial or ethnic group will have the same tissue traits.  For people of African ancestry, this is particularly true, as some, African, African Caribbean, African American, etc tissue types are rarely found in donors from other races and may be unusual even among other people of African ancestry.

This diversity means that many Black people have an unusually rare combination of the genes, called HLA genes that determine tissue type.  These genes work sort of like a six-digit combination lock: To be a compatible donor, you need to have at least six versions of the genes in common with the recipient.  The fewer of these genes that match, the greater the chance that the recipient's immune system will attack the donor cells.  Therefore the more people to choose from, the closer the experts can get to an exact match.

The extreme diversity of tissue types among people with African ancestry means that there needs to be many more Black people registering to find a matching Black donor, than say a similar White Caucasian situation.

That means that if the group of potential donors being searched is small, the likelihood of finding a match will also be small.

Therefore we are appealing to all African, African Caribbean and People of Mixed Parentage between the ages of 18 & 40 to come forward and register as potential lifesavers for the many seriously ill patients within our community at home and abroad.  You must be in relatively good health and have no history of severe back problems, hepatitis, heart disease or cancer & possess a positive attitude and pride in wanting to become a donor.  No special diet or physical program is necessary, but individuals must not be severely under or over the expected weight for their height.

* * The above information is deals with the black community, but could be equally applied to any ethnic minority community where the need for more potential donors is urgent. * *

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What about the fact that I drink, smoke and have Sickle Cell Trait?

It does not matter if you have Sickle Cell Trait, drink or smoke, etc.  Also your Blood group is not important as matching is not based upon having the same blood type as the sufferer. Because what is important is the unique Bone Marrow tissue type make up of people of African descent in order to find a matching donor for somebody of African or Mixed Parentage heritage.  Due to our very low numbers, we are seeking more potential donors from the Black community to join the bone marrow register.

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I do want to help, but to be honest I am bit scared?

We totally understand how some people fear they will be called to donate marrow and that it will hurt.  But please be assured that if a donor is called upon to donate bone marrow, the process is quick and fairly painless.  Most donors report soreness in their hip as if they’d been doing strenuous gardening, or as if someone was standing on their hips or back as the most uncomfortable side effect.

Therefore we urgently need our community to step forward and do the right thing.  Because if you are reading this message or heard about the appeal via the News Media or Internet, and are eligible and can physically get to the location to come forward and help but do not then we have to ask this question?

What is it going to take before you come forward to register and try to help one of our own?

Serious illness touches us all directly or indirectly.  At some point in the future someone you know will probably need a Bone Marrow donor.  Would it not be great if on every occasion there were tens of thousands of us already registered to choose from to find the matching donor?

By attending a bone marrow registration clinic you could potentially save the life of any one of thousands of patients desperate for require bone marrow transplants around the world. 

It could be the most important thing you ever do in your life!

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