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Bone Marrow/Stem Cell Transplant Frequently Asked Questions
Helpful information for patients, caregivers and families
(Bilingual Spanish/English)

5. How does the search for a donor get started?

If you are having an allogeneic transplant, your center will initiate a donor search. In particular, they will look for someone who has a matching human leukocyte antigen (HLA) type. Human leukocyte antigens are proteins on the surface of your white blood cells, which serve as a kind of "fingerprint" and play an important role in your immune system's ability to distinguish between "self" and "other." There are several pairs of antigens that are considered important in determining the degree of fit between you and your donor. The transplant team will look for a donor who is a match at 6, 8, 10, or even 12 antigens. The transplant team might say that they are looking for a "10/10 match." The more closely matched the donor and recipient are, the more likely it is that the new immune system will recognize the host's body as "self," and the less likely it is that the recipient will experience GVHD.

Blood type is not the same as HLA type – a well-matched donor may not have the same blood type as you. After the transplant, the patient will acquire the blood type of the donor.

Before initiating a national donor search, the transplant team will first check to see if any of your siblings are a match. Each full brother or sister has a 25% chance of being a match. An identical twin is a perfect match. If potential matches are not found through this preliminary search, a formal search is initiated. This part of the search usually takes weeks, if not months, and there are costs involved, so insurance approval will be sought first. Once potential donors are identified, they will be contacted to see if they are still able to donate. Each potential donor will need to undergo a physical exam to make sure it is safe for him/her to donate stem cells. Often friends and family members are enthusiastic to donate their stem cells, but it is unlikely that they would be a match. They can be referred to the Be the Match Registry. (See Resource Listing)

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