How are stem cells donated?

There are two ways to donate stem cells: from circulating blood and from bone marrow

The Blood Service ensures that donating stem cells is a safe process for the donor

Stem cells collected using different methods have slightly different characteristics. Which collection method is preferable depends on the patient’s age and condition. Roughly 80 per cent of stem cell donations are taken from the bloodstream.


Collecting stem cells from the bloodstream

Stem cells can be collected from the crook of the elbow in a similar way to a blood donation. However, before collection, stem cells need to be transferred from the bone marrow to the bloodstream. This is done using growth factor injections.

Growth factor is a substance that occurs naturally in small amounts in the body. Growth factor stimulates bone marrow stem cell proliferation and causes stem cells to move from the bone marrow to the bloodstream. Growth factor injections are given on 4–5 consecutive days at Meilahti Hospital in Helsinki.

Once the stem cells have moved to your bloodstream, it is time for collection. Stem cells are collected using cannulas placed into veins in the crooks of your elbows and takes 5–6 hours per session, of which there are one or two. If there are two sessions, the second will be on the day following the first. In most cases, collection only takes one day.

Donors will be on sick leave for the duration of the growth factor injections and stem cell collection, as well as a couple of days after the procedure. The Blood Service reimburses the donor’s expenses, such as travel and accommodation, meals and any loss of income from the donor’s primary occupation resulting directly from the process.

Approximately 80 per cent of donations are taken from the bloodstream.

Collection of stem cells from bone marrow

Collection of stem cells from bone marrow is performed under general anaesthesia at Meilahti Hospital. Bone marrow is removed from the crest of the ilium in small amounts using syringes inserted into your hip above the buttocks. Approximately 300–1,200 ml of bone marrow is collected, with the collection taking a little over an hour.

You will need to arrive at the hospital the day before the donation. You will be discharged from the hospital the day after the donation and will need approximately one week of sick leave. The Blood Service reimburses any expenses incurred from the donation process.

Stem cell donations collected from bone marrow are usually destined for paediatric patients. Roughly 20 per cent of donations are collected from bone marrow.