About becoming a donor

Who is eligible to become a potential blood stem cell donor?

Anyone between the ages of 18-55 and in general good health can become a potential blood stem cell donor. Pre-registration is possible from the age of 17. You must also be permanently living in the UK.

Please check that you are able to register by looking at this list. We have listed the exclusion criteria which is put together by experts and doctors at DKMS and are necessary to ensure the safety of both patients and donors.

What excludes someone from becoming a potential blood stem cell donor?

Weight under 7 stone 12lbs/50kg

The number of blood stem cells that can be collected during the donation process depends on the weight of the donor It is generally possible to collect more stem cells from people with a higher weight. If the amount of transplanted stem cells is low, the chances of a successful transplantation usually decreases. This is why there is a need for a minimum weight. If the donor has a low weight, the amount of blood stem cells collected during the donation process can be so low that it impacts the success of the transplantation. Therefore, registering as a potential blood stem cell donor and donating blood stem cells is not recommended if a person’s weight is below 7 stone 12lbs (50kg).

Obesity (e.g. body mass index (BMI)>40)

For registering as a potential blood stem cell donor, as well as for donating blood stem cells, there is a maximum Body-Mass-Index (BMI) limit of 40. While a blood stem cell donation is harmless for healthy people, there are health risks if the donor suffers from other pre-existing risky conditions. Severe obesity is unfortunately one of these risk factors. Severe obesity is problematic because it could lead to the two possible blood stem cell donation processes (peripheral blood stem cell donation and bone marrow collection) presenting a threat to the donor’s health. For bone marrow donation, a donor with obesity is at a higher risk of complications during anaesthesia. The harvest might also be impossible due to restricted access. Peripheral stem cell donation is not without unforeseeable risks, such as difficulty in correctly dosing the necessary medication, which also increases the side effects. The likelihood of complications increases with severe obesity. The maximum weight limit is not intended to discriminate against certain groups of people. It is in place to protect the health of our donors, which is our greatest responsibility.

Severe illnesses of the central nervous system or mental illness

The eligibility of a potential blood stem cell donor depends on the severity of the depression/anxiety. First of all, the question is whether or not the potential donor is limited due to their illness and how resilient they are in their everyday life. The donation process might be an additional mental burden, which has to be managed on top of everything else. It is not only the question of whether the donor will be able to reliably come to the donation appointment, but also how they can handle the situation after the donation. Even though they may be strangers, donors and recipients share a unique connection and many donors really worry about the recipient of their donation. There are also concerns related to many psychotropic drugs causing changes in the blood count. Neuroleptics are especially problematic, making it impossible to donate blood stem cells. If suffering from severe psychological illnesses, it is unfortunately not possible to register as a donor. Those illnesses include severe depression requiring treatment, borderline syndrome, any form of psychosis, schizo-effective disorders, and bipolar/manic affective illnesses. It is possible to register as a donor if suffering from a “mild” depression, receiving treatment for a limited amount of time, and feeling well enough to manage everyday life. This applies to donors whose medication contains less problematic substances, such as Citalopram or Fluoxetine.

Systematic autoimmune diseases or other severe chronic illnesses (e.g. diabetes or rheumatism)

It is not possible to register donors with diabetes mellitus type 1. The restriction is in place to protect the donor as well as the recipient. Diabetes mellitus type 1 is an autoimmune disease which leads to the destruction of the insulin-building cells of the pancreas. Since the transplanted cells are cells from the immune system, it is possible that the disease will be transmitted to the patient. Because the health of the patient is already very weak, it is impossible to say what effect the disease would have on them and severe complications are very likely to occur Additionally, due to the increased blood sugar level, diabetes can cause – to a varying degree - consequential damages of the nerves and blood vessels. We do not want to risk deterioration of the underlying disease through the stem cell donation. This is why we do not register people suffering from diabetes mellitus type 1. Diabetes mellitus type 2 causes the cells to become resistant to insulin. Consequently, glucose in the blood can not be absorbed by the cells. Increased blood sugar levels can damage the nerves and blood vessels. We do not want to risk of deterioration of the underlying disease through the stem cell donation. This is why someone suffering from diabetes is not eligible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor.

Rheumatism

It is not possible for someone to register as a blood stem cell donor if they are suffering from a rheumatic disease, even if they are not currently experiencing any symptoms. Rheumatic diseases include rheumatic arthritis, Bekhterev´s disease, and Juvenile Arthritis. The reason for excluding people suffering from those conditions is that they are autoimmune diseases. During the stem cell transplantation, cells of the immune system are transmitted into the recipient, leading to a risk of a possible negative reaction in the body of the recipient. Because the recipient is already physically burdened due to their disease, the chemotherapy in preparation for the transplantation, and the transplantation itself, a negative autoimmune reaction could potentially be fatal. This is why it is not possible to donate blood stem cells and therefore to register as a blood stem cell donor if suffering from autoimmune diseases.

Cancer (including being cancer-free, but having had cancer in the past)

Unfortunately, we cannot register people who have suffered from a malignant disease in the past. Anybody who has suffered from a malignant tumor (explicitly: suffered from a not clearly benign tumor), is not eligible to register as a blood stem cell donor. This does not depend on the success of the therapy or on how long ago the cancer occurred.

Addiction (alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs)

The occasional consumption of cannabis does not affect your eligibility to register as a blood stem cell donor. However, this only applies to occasional consumption. The reason for the restriction to occasional consumption only is that a donor’s reliability might be affected if any kinds of drugs are used regularly. While there may not be a direct health risk to the recipient, an unreliable donor might cause significant complications, because blood stem cell transplantations take place on a tight schedule to avoid putting the patient at risk. It is important for us to know which kind of drugs are consumed and for how long. If the drugs have been consumed for a long period of time, it might be better not to register as a blood stem cell donor. If that is not the case and if the potential donor is capable and willing to stop consuming, they can register as a potential blood stem cell donor.

Severe heart diseases

People suffering from well-regulated high blood pressure or a mitral valve prolapse can register as a potential blood stem cell donor, as long as there are no health problems stemming from the condition. The same is true for an exceptionally high or low resting heart beat, as long as it is steady. Most other heart diseases that require treatment or at least monitoring would unfortunately make you ineligible for registering as a potential blood stem cell donor, because they greatly increase the risk of complications during the donation. Those conditions include cardiac dysrhythmia, damage to the vascular walls, arteriosclerosis (especially if medication with anticoagulant drugs is necessary), heart attack, strokes, or structural defects of the heart such as valvular defects. If you have questions concerning any other condition that requires treatment, please get in touch via donor@dkms.org.uk.

Severe lung diseases

For someone with a chronic lung disease, including diseases in the early stages, there is a risk of further damage to their lung during a blood stem cell donation. Autoimmune diseases also carry the risk of transmitting the condition onto the recipient. Many lung diseases also increase the risk associated with general anaesthetic. Those suffering from a frequent or consistent dyspnoea are not eligible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor.

Severe kidney diseases

For people with chronic kidney diseases, including diseases in the early stages, there is a risk of further damage to their kidney during a blood stem cell donation. Autoimmune diseases also carry the risk of transmitting the condition onto the recipient.

Severe metabolic diseases

Those with severe metabolic diseases, including diseases in the early stages, might see their condition worsen or lapse during a blood stem cell donation. Especially problematic are metabolic diseases that have already caused consequential damages, e.g. damages to the vessels.

Severe tropical infectious diseases

Every pre-existing infectious disease can be transmitted onto the recipient during a blood stem cell donation. This is also the case if the donor does not have any symptoms because their immune system has been able to control the disease. However, the patient does not have a working immune system at the time of the transplantation so they are not protected from infectious diseases.

Infectious diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B or Hepatitis C, and Syphilis

Severe and life-threatening infectious diseases like HIV would make you ineligible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor. This is to protect the recipient, especially in cases were a complete healing from the disease is not verifiable (e.g. Hepatitis C).

Diseases of the haematopoietic system (blood disorders)

Diseases of the blood and the immune system are problematic, because the blood stem cells of the haematopoietic system and the immune system are transmitted through the stem cell transplantation. Conditions that have developed during the lifetime of the donor can also be transmitted during the transplantation, because the transplant includes mature cells of the immune system. Additionally, some diseases can increase the risk associated with the donation for the donor. For example, the donor would be at a higher risk of thrombosis or bleeding if they have a condition affecting the coagulation factors.


If you have any of the below conditions, we have good news, you are eligible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor:

Enlarged Thyroid/Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism/Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis (stable and symptom-free; also when taking thyroid hormones or Iodine; does not apply to Grave’s disease)

If the underactive thyroid has been caused by an operation, it does not affect eligibility to donate blood stem cells, as long as the operation has not been because of Grave’s disease or a thyroid carcinoma. If the hypothyroidism is caused by an autoimmune disease of the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), the donor may only be approved for bone marrow donation (extracted from the pelvic bone, not the spine). This would be determined if and when the donor has been matched with a patient. If the underactive thyroid exists without any other pre-existing thyroid condition, it does not affect a potential donor’s eligibility to register.

High blood pressure (stable and well-controlled)

High blood pressure generally does not affect blood stem cell donation if the condition is well-regulated with drugs or through an adapted diet. High blood pressure would also not be a problem if it hasn’t caused any damage to the eyes, heart or vessels. If high blood pressure is well-regulated, it does not affect your eligibility to become a blood stem cell donor.

Hay fever, mild asthma (without attacks), food allergy

It is possible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor when suffering from an allergy (including food allergies, hay fever or drug allergies), with the exception of severe allergic reactions (e.g. allergic shocks or Quincke's Oedema) in the past. If you have suffered from severe allergic reactions in the past, please let us know via email: donor@dkms.org.uk, or tel: 020 8747 5620, because it may affect your eligibility as a donor.

Unipolar depression (mild depression, no previous maniac episodes, without any limitations in daily life)

Eligibility to become a potential blood stem cell donor depends on the severity of the depression. The first consideration is whether the potential donor is limited due to their illness and how resilient they are in their everyday life. The donation process might be an additional mental burden that has to be managed on top of everything else. It is not only a question of whether the donor will be able to reliably come to the donation appointment, but also how they can handle the situation after the donation. Even though they may be strangers, donors and recipients share a unique connection and many donors worry about the recipient of their donation. There are also concerns about many psychotropic drugs, which can cause changes to the blood count. Neuroleptics are especially problematic in this regard, making it impossible to donate blood stem cells. If the prospective donor is suffering from severe psychological illnesses, it is unfortunately not possible for them to register. Those illnesses include severe depression requiring treatment, borderline syndrome, any form of psychosis, schizo-effective disorders, and bipolar/manic affective illnesses. It is possible to register as a donor if suffering from mild depression and if the prospective donor is receiving treatment for a limited amount of time, and feeling well enough to manage everyday life. This applies to blood stem cell donors whose medication contains less problematic substances, such as Citalopram or Fluoxetine.

Iron-deficiency anaemia (treatable with iron supplement)

For iron-deficiency anaemia, the determining factor is the haemoglobin level. If the level is frequently below 11.5 mg/dl for women and 13.5 mg/dl for men, this does cause problems for donors and registration is not permitted. However, if the iron supplement is well-tolerated and the iron level, as well as the haemoglobin level, are in a normal range , you would still be eligible to register as a potential blood stem cell donor.

Basal cell carcinoma and cervical carcinoma in situ

Basal cell carcinoma and cervical carcinoma in situ do not affect your eligibility as a blood stem cell donor, if they have been removed completely and the control check-ups since have been without pathological findings. The reason for this is that in the cases of basal cell carcinoma and cervical carcinoma, it is not expected that the cancerous cells will spread (metastasizing).

Why is there an upper age limit of 55?

The upper age limit is in place in order to protect the safety of the donor and to provide the best possible treatment for patients. Younger people are more likely to be chosen as donors and are less likely to have health issues that could cause complications with donating. With age also comes an increase in risk from anaesthesia.

Can I register while breastfeeding?

You can register as a potential blood stem cell donor while breastfeeding, however you will need to be deactivated on the register until you have stopped. It is best to wait until after you have stopped breastfeeding before registering as a potential blood stem cell donor.

If you are pregnant or have recently given birth and are not breastfeeding, then you need to wait until six months after your baby is born before you can register.

When will my donor card arrive?

When you register to become a potential blood stem cell donor with us, we send you a do-it-yourself swab kit with instructions and a pre-paid envelope for returning your swabs to us. Once we have received your swabs back, we will send you an email to acknowledge this.

Your swabs will then be analysed at our lab and your tissue-type will be determined – this process usually takes between 3-6 weeks. Once your swabs have been analysed, you will go live on the UK stem cell registry. You will then receive your donor card to confirm this. Your donor card can take up to 12 weeks to arrive, this is because we send them out in batches every few months to save on postage costs.

Can I register for a specific person?

When you register as a potential blood stem cell donor, you are added to the UK stem cell registry and are on standby to save the life of anyone in need of a blood stem cell donation. Many people are inspired to register after seeing the story of a particular patient, but it is important to understand and be comfortable with that fact that you could be a match for anyone, and that you could be their best hope of survival. We ask that everyone that registers is prepared to donate to anyone who they are a match for.

Can I register if I live outside the UK?

You must live permanently in the UK to register with DKMS UK, but you can register as a potential blood stem cell donor in other countries. In addition to the UK, DKMS also registers potential blood stem cell donors in the US (www.dkms.org), Germany (www.dkms.de) and Poland (www.dkms.pl). If you live outside of these countries, you can see if there is a registry in your country on the World Marrow Donor Association (WMDA) website: https://share.wmda.info/display/WMDAREG/Database

Online registration: how does that work with the swab kit?

You can register to become a potential blood stem cell donor on our website. Simply fill in the online registration form and we’ll send you a DIY swab kit.

The kit contains three swabs. Begin by rinsing your mouth with water if you have eaten or had anything to drink within the past hour. Rub and rotate a swab on the inside of one cheek for 60 seconds, repeat with the second swab on the inside of the other cheek and then return to the first cheek with the third swab. Allow to dry for two minutes before placing into the swab envelope provided, which should be sent back to our office in the pre-paid envelope. We will then send them to our laboratory, which will determine your tissue type, and your details will be placed anonymously onto the register of potential donors with your unique donor number.

Are there any risks associated with blood stem cell donation?

Peripheral Stem Cell Donation – (method used in over 90% of donations):

A peripheral blood stem cell donation is performed as an out-patient procedure and you will not be required to have a general anaesthetic. This technique has been applied in medicine since 1988 and has been performed by DKMS (Delete Blood Cancer UK) since 1996. According to our most recent research, no known long term effects have ever been recorded for either the procedure of donating or for the G-CSF injections that you would receive prior to the donation.

Bone Marrow Collection – (method used in less than 10% of cases):

A general anaesthetic is necessary for the bone marrow collection. The risk of life-threatening complications during any general anaesthetic is estimated by doctors at less than around 1:50,000. After the collection, local wound pain and in some cases nausea can occur as an after-effect of the general anaesthetic. Furthermore, a risk of infection exists to the same extent as it does for any wound. There are no known risks associated with this procedure for donating bone marrow.

How does DKMS finance itself and where does money raised by DKMS go?

DKMS is a charity and therefore relies on monetary donations to cover donor recruitment costs. The cost of the registration for one potential donor is £40. Our operations and administrative costs are paid out of a reimbursement fee we receive for further testing of donors (once they are identified as a potential match) and for the stem cell donation itself. We are committed to working efficiently and at the highest professional level and undertake an annual financial audit.

How will the security of my data be ensured?

DKMS only records, processes and makes use of your personal data in accordance with your informed consent. We adhere to legal guidelines on the use of any data and only keep what is legally permissible and necessary in order to find a suitable stem cell donor.

The protection and security of your data is of paramount importance to us. We are registered and adhere to the Data Protection Act 1998 and ensure that all employees are fully up to date and trained in this Act. Your personal data will be stored in our secure DKMS database and only your anonymised data will be transmitted to registries to find out if you are a potential match for a patient (data such as HLA tissue characteristics, age and gender and donor number).

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