Stem cells are biological cells that can be stimulated to transform into other body cells. Stem cells can be developed into red or white blood cells, liver cells, muscle cells, skin cells, tissue cells or even nerve cells. The best kinds of stem cells are found in the umbilical cord blood stem cells, but can also be found in bone marrow, fat and blood.
Join a Donor Register
Donor registers are the databases used to match willing donors to people who desperately need life-saving transplants for diseases such as leukaemia or blood cancer. There are two methods for stem cell collection – peripheral blood stem cell collection and bone marrow donation. The peripheral extraction method involves a series of injections over a short period of time (usually three days), which stimulates stem cell production and release, and subsequent blood extraction. No general anaesthetic is required for this procedure. The second method, bone marrow donation, involves stem cell extraction from the bone marrow in the pelvis using a needle and syringe, and a general anaesthetic and short hospital stay is required for this method.
Donate Your Umbilical Cord
By joining a register before or when you’re pregnant you can opt to have your baby’s stem cells collected. This is a great way to insure your child’s future health, or that of close relatives as the cells can be stored for years after collection. Alternatively, you can donate the cells to a register for use by a patient who is a match. The stem cell collection process is simple and quick but you must already be on a register as the cells cannot be collected after the birth.
Donations can be made to a charity such as Anthony Nolan, the UK’s blood cancer charity and bone marrow register. Alternatively you may prefer to donate to a scientific research charity like the UK Stem Cell Foundation, which funds “promising stem cell research projects that have the greatest potential for saving and improving people’s lives”. You may wish to make a single or regular donation and either way, stem cell storage is a valuable and innovative mechanism that supports stem cell research.
Leave a Gift in Your Will
If you are thinking of leaving a gift to charity in your Will, you may consider a gift that supports the work of a stem cell charity that can help save the lives of people suffering from a wide range of diseases including leukaemia, Wilms tumour (a type of kidney cancer), neuroblastoma, lymphoma, certain testicular and ovarian cancers, blood disorders, immune system diseases or bone marrow syndromes.
A stem cell transplant is often the last chance to save the life of a person with blood cancer or bone marrow syndrome. Volunteers are vital to charities; fundraising, raise awareness and bringing new recruits onto the register, as well as couriering the stem cells between research centres and hospitals where they are needed for treatment of a patient.