Collecting Stem Cells for Transplant

Bone marrow and blood stem cell collection options

Collecting life-saving hematopoietic (blood-forming) stem cells for transplant was once a process possible only through a surgical procedure. Now, there are other options. Stem cells can be sourced from circulating blood and umbilical cords, making the collection process easier and transplants more accessible to those who need them.

Peripheral blood stem cell collection

The Scripps Blood and Marrow Transplant Program uses peripheral blood stem cell collection. In this procedure, the donor receives several daily injections which contain a medication that moves stem cells out of the bone marrow and into the blood.

On the day of the actual collection, the donor is connected to a blood collection and processing machine through a needle inserted in a vein.

Blood moves into the machine via this connection, is filtered to collect the stem cells, and then is returned back to the donor.

Peripheral blood stem cell collection takes a few hours. The donor can go home the same day and resume normal activities almost immediately.

Umbilical cord collection

When umbilical cord blood transplants are used, stem cells are collected from a newborn baby’s umbilical cord and the mother’ placenta following delivery. The cord blood is extracted and injected into a sterile bag. The cord blood unit is then sent to a lab for testing. Afterward, it is frozen and stored at a cord blood bank until it is needed.

The mother and baby are unharmed during the collection of cord blood stem cells.

Surgical bone marrow collection

If umbilical cord or peripheral blood stem cells cannot be used, a donor can give life-saving stem cells through traditional surgical bone marrow harvest. Fewer than half our donations currently involve surgery.

Because the procedure takes place under general anesthesia, there is no pain during the donation itself. All surgical procedures involving general anesthesia have risks, which will be thoroughly reviewed by the transplant team before the donor gives final consent for the donation.

Afterward, there may be discomfort at the site where the needle was inserted in the donor’s bone, but this discomfort dissipates within a few days. The donor’s blood marrow is replenished in about two to three weeks.