Bone Mar­row and Stem Cell Donation

Every year, lar­ge num­bers of peo­p­le in Ger­ma­ny con­tract a mali­gnant blood dise­a­se such as leuk­emia – accor­ding to the Ger­man Can­cer Regis­try, almost 14,000 new cases were dia­gno­sed in 2016. Only some of the­se pati­ents can be trea­ted suc­cessful­ly with medi­ca­ti­on. For many, a blood stem cell trans­plan­ta­ti­on is the­r­e­fo­re the only chan­ce of over­co­ming their disease.

Matching tis­sue characteristics

For a stem cell trans­plan­ta­ti­on to suc­ceed, it is important to find the best pos­si­ble match bet­ween reci­pi­ent and donor in terms of HLA (human leu­ko­cy­te anti­gens) tis­sue cha­rac­te­ristics. If this is not the case, a seve­re rejec­tion reac­tion can occur in the patient’s body. For about one third of pati­ents, an imme­dia­te sibling may be an eli­gi­ble donor due to having simi­lar genes. The likeli­hood is lower with par­ents and other blood relatives.
An unre­la­ted donor must the­r­e­fo­re be found for most pati­ents – via the ZKRD. Again, the HLA cha­rac­te­ristics are pivo­tal to suc­cess. Some com­bi­na­ti­ons of tis­sue types are rela­tively com­mon, while some indi­vi­du­als have rarer tis­sue types which in extre­me cases may be uni­que in Ger­ma­ny, per­haps even worldwide.
To regis­ter, cont­act one of the Ger­man donor cen­ters. For a list of the addres­ses for all Ger­man donor cen­ters, click here.

Methods of stem cell donation

The­re are two methods for coll­ec­ting stem cells from donors: peri­phe­ral blood stem cell dona­ti­on or bone mar­row donation.

Peri­phe­ral blood stem cell donation

With peri­phe­ral blood stem cell dona­ti­on, the donor is first trea­ted with a growth fac­tor cal­led G‑CSF. This encou­ra­ges the stem cells in the bone mar­row to matu­re and pass into the blood more quick­ly. They are then remo­ved from the donor in the out­pa­ti­ent set­ting using a method cal­led stem cell aphe­re­sis, which is simi­lar to dia­ly­sis. The pro­cess invol­ves taking blood from a vein in one arm, pas­sing it through a cell sepa­ra­tor, then retur­ning it into a vein in the other arm. As a rule, dona­ting stem cells in this way lasts about three to four hours. In some cases, the pro­cess must be repea­ted the fol­lo­wing day to obtain the requi­red num­ber of stem cells.

Bone mar­row donation

For a bone mar­row dona­ti­on, the doc­tors make seve­ral small punc­tures in the area of the pos­te­ri­or pel­vic bone while the donor is under gene­ral anes­the­sia and then remo­ve bone mar­row from the ili­ac crest using a bio­psy need­le. A bone mar­row dona­ti­on takes about one hour. The bone mar­row rege­ne­ra­tes its­elf within a few weeks. The donor can lea­ve the hos­pi­tal after one to two days.
Remem­ber that the bone mar­row should not be con­fu­sed with the spi­nal cord! The spi­nal cord is part of the ner­vous sys­tem and has not­hing to do with stem cell/​bone mar­row donation.


Peri­phe­ral blood stem cell dona­ti­on is now the stan­dard tech­ni­que for coll­ec­ting stem cells. Hence, we no lon­ger tend to talk about bone mar­row trans­plants but rather (blood) stem cell trans­plants. Doc­tors may opt for or rule out a par­ti­cu­lar method depen­ding on the patient’s health. The patient’s dia­gno­sis may also influence the doctor’s choice of a spe­ci­fic blood stem cell source. Usual­ly, howe­ver, they always try to account for the donor’s wishes.

After dona­ti­on

Neither method of stem cell coll­ec­tion is usual­ly asso­cia­ted with any health issues. It is not neces­sa­ry to stay in hos­pi­tal after dona­ting peri­phe­ral blood stem cells. If dona­ting bone mar­row, the donor will remain on the ward for one to two days and may also expe­ri­ence dis­com­fort around the punc­tu­re site for a few days.
If the­re is mutu­al inte­rest, it is pos­si­ble in Ger­ma­ny for the donor and reci­pi­ent to get to know each other after the dona­ti­on pro­vi­ded they both agree. As a rule, cont­act is initi­al­ly estab­lished anony­mously through pos­tal or e‑mail com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on. This is only a recom­men­da­ti­on, howe­ver, not a rule. In Ger­ma­ny, it is only pos­si­ble to meet in per­son two years after the trans­plan­ta­ti­on. If the donor or pati­ent comes from a coun­try whe­re cont­act is not per­mit­ted, the stric­ter rules will apply.

Our infor­ma­ti­on leaf­let on how donors and pati­ents can get to know each other can be down­loa­ded here.

Ques­ti­ons and answers

The most fre­quent­ly asked ques­ti­ons and ans­wers about typ­ing and stem cell dona­ti­on can be found in our FAQs.

Inter­na­tio­nal donor numbers

Thanks to the tire­less work of the donor cen­ters, our data­ba­se con­ti­nues to grow. You can find the exact data in our dia­gram on donor num­bers.
View dia­gram

Would you like to sign up?

Sim­ply cont­act your nea­rest donor cen­ter. More infor­ma­ti­on about the donor cen­ters and their loca­ti­ons can be found on our address page.