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Be The Match: Marrow Donation

Why Register to Donate Bone Marrow?

Every year, thousands of adults and children need bone marrow transplants – a procedure which may be their only chance for survival. Although some patients with aplastic anemia, leukemia or other cancers have a genetically matched family member who can donate, about 70 percent do not. These patients' lives depend on finding an unrelated individual with a compatible tissue type, often within their own ethnic group, who is willing to donate marrow.

Since 1987, the National Marrow Donor Program (www.bethematch.org) has facilitated thousands of unrelated marrow transplants. Still, there is a critical need for more volunteer donors. Many patients, especially people of color, cannot find a compatible donor among those on the registry. Patients and donors must have matching tissue types, and these matches are found most often between people of the same ethnic group. A large, ethnically diverse group of prospective donors will give more patients a chance for survival.

What is Bone Marrow?

Marrow is the tissue found inside bones that produces red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. These vital blood cells fight infection, carry oxygen and help control bleeding. Any disease that attacks the bone marrow can eliminate the body's ability to protect itself.

Who Can Donate Marrow?

If you are in good health and between the ages of 18 and 60, you may be eligible to join the Be the Match registry, where patients seeking a compatible donor begin their search.

Steps to Joining the Registry

  • Volunteers who wish to join the registry complete a questionnaire, and then your inherited tissue type (HLA, or human leukocyte antigen type) will be determined by taking a swab of cells from inside your cheek or by taking a small blood sample.
  • The laboratory results are entered into the Be the Match registry, a computerized database of potential donors.

Steps to Donating Marrow

  • If you match the tissue type of a patient seeking a donor, additional testing will confirm the results. You will consult with marrow donor counselors who will help you make an informed decision about donating marrow.
  • The marrow collection process usually does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. The procedure itself is painless, because it is performed under anesthesia. But, for an average of two weeks following the procedure, most donors experience sore hips and some must restrict their activities. Most donors also report that donating marrow is a very positive experience. Many marrow donors are willing to donate again in the future.
  • The donated marrow is transfused to the patient, whose diseased cells have been destroyed by intensive chemotherapy. In time, the donated marrow engrafts and begins producing healthy blood cells.

Why are More People of Color Needed?

Because patients are most likely to find a compatible donor within their own ethnic group, a diverse group of potential donors is needed. More than 2-million volunteers have joined the national registry, but only a small percentage are people of color.
Percentage of ethnic groups on the national registry:

  • African American - 7.8%
  • Asian/Pacific Islander - 5.7%
  • Hispanic - 7.1%
  • Native American - 1.6%
  • Caucasian - 71.5%


When someone volunteers to join the national registry of potential donors, a blood sample is taken and is tissue-typed. Testing costs vary between regions. Because funding is limited, monetary donations are always welcome to help defray the cost of testing.

How Can I Join the Registry?

If you live in eastern Iowa and western Illinois region and would like to join the registry, call the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics at 800-944-8220.
If you live in another area of the United States, call the National Marrow Donor Program at 1-800-MARROW-2.

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