Written by Emma Field // Graphic by Makayla McDonald
A few students were recently matched for stem cell and bone marrow donation through a group called DKMS.
Last fall, DKMS hosted a bone marrow donor drive outside Benson Auditorium, providing envelopes with testing kits and information cards to fill out with basic health history. Participants swabbed their cheeks and put the sample into an envelope. The envelopes were then sent for laboratory testing to see if any matches existed.
A short time after testing, participants were added to a national registry. If someone is a match, they are a match for both bone marrow and stem cell donation.
“Recovery for the stem cell donation is pretty quick,” senior Shannon Keyser said. “I was feeling better within two days. For actual bone marrow, the recovery takes a bit longer.”
Keyser talked about the importance of donating stem cells. “Most recipients in need of a transplant view this procedure as a last resort because it requires a close genetic match,” Keyser said. “It’s not just about blood type. There’s about 40 million people on the registry. That’s part of why it’s important for so many people to register in order for this to work. Just having your name on there helps.”
DKMS is an abbreviation for Deutsche Knochenmarkspenderdatei. Translated from German, this means German Bone Marrow Donor File. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those with blood cancer and disorders. The most common cancers they combat are leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma.
“Various factors can obstruct the normal process of maturation, differentiation and the natural dying of cells,” the DKMS website said. “This can lead to the formation of immature or abnormal blood cells, which enter the bloodstream and multiply in an uncontrolled way. These immature or abnormal cells are called cancer cells. Cancer cells flood the bloodstream and drive out healthy cells.”
Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) donation is the most common method used by donors. The same cells that are found in bone marrow are also found in peripheral blood. Donors take a medication called filgrastim to increase the number of stem cells in the bloodstream. Next, blood is collected through a process called apheresis. Blood is removed from one side of the donor’s arm, then separated into components via centrifuge, and then the unused blood is returned into the other arm.
After the PBSC donation is complete, a courier waits in the room with a cooler to transport the donation. As soon as they receive the cells, they go immediately to where the patient is.
Marco Dehler, head of the stem cell service team at “time:matters,” stresses the importance of speedy delivery. Time:matters is a company that aids in the logistics of transporting stem cells.
“We know that these transports can make the difference between whether a person will see their next birthday or not,” Dehler said. “The couriers keep their eyes on the box for the entire trip. No time for sleep. Not even on long-distance flights between Europe and the U.S., which easily last 24 hours. Couriers need to protect their shipments like bodyguards. For instance, from security officers who want to send the box through a scanner, which would destroy the stem cells.”
Senior Tiag Campney is on the national registry and will participate in PBSC donation soon. Campney offered advice to those thinking about becoming a donor.
“Do it,” Campney said. “It doesn’t cost you anything, or do anything to you, to be put on the registry. It saves someone’s life.”
Keyser echoed this idea.
“I’m glad that what I’m able to do helps provide a second chance of life for someone,” Keyser said.