Difference between organ, blood and stem cell donation

7 September 2018

It’s Organ Donation Week and we’re here to break down the difference between organ donation, blood donation and blood stem cell donations. 

Organ donation

This process involves a person donating their organs and tissue for transplant to a patient in need. It’s a separate classification to stem cell transplants. In the UK, you can join the NHS Organ Donor register whereby you can choose to donate all or some of your organs and tissue.  

Blood donation

Blood donations are provided to hospitals in order administer blood transfusions for patients in need. Unlike blood stem cell donations, suitable matches for a blood donation are characterised by different blood groups.  In the UK, you can register as a blood donor through the Health Authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. 

Blood stem cell donation 

Blood stem cell transplants are used to treat blood cancers and blood disorders. Donating blood stem cells is similar to giving blood in 90% of cases. However, donor eligibility differs and the suitability of a match is based on the patient and donor’s human leukocyte antigen (HLA) combination (tissue type), rather than blood type. 
There are tens of thousands of HLA characteristics that exist (and more keep being discovered!), which exist in millions of combinations. This makes finding matches really difficult. That's why it's so important to have more people on the stem cell registry. The more donors, the higher chances for matches. And the more hope. 
If you’re called upon to donate, 90% of the time it will be done via the PBSC collection. The donation process looks similar to donating blood but instead of giving whole blood, you only donate stem cells from your blood. 
The other possible method, used in 10% of all cases in the UK, is bone marrow donation extracted from the hip bone. You can find everything you need to know about the donation methods and register on our website!