South African Bone Marrow Registry | Western Cape Government

South African Bone Marrow Registry

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Every year hundreds of South Africans with blood diseases such as leukaemia and bone marrow failure reach a stage where their only chance of survival is receiving a bone marrow stem cell transplant from a healthy donor.

It takes just 4 buccal swabs (DNA collection from your mouth) to become registered as a stem cell donor, so don’t wait any longer.

The South African Bone Marrow Registry (SABMR) is the only bone marrow registry in Africa to achieve full accreditation by the World Marrow Donor Association. It has successfully secured bone marrow stem cell transplants for more than 450 patients.

Did you know?

A patient is most likely to find a match within their own ethnic group. The stem cell donor needs to be a genetic or DNA match, and not a blood group match. According to the SABMR, about 30% of patients find a match within their families while the other 70% rely on finding a match from an unrelated donor to provide them with the chance of survival.

What is bone marrow?

Bone marrow is the tissue that produces red cells to carry oxygen, white cells to fight infection and platelets to prevent bleeding – all required to sustain life.

What’s the difference between a stem cell or bone marrow transplant?

In the past, patients who needed a stem cell transplant received a bone marrow transplant because the stem cells were collected from the bone marrow. Today, stem cells can be collected from the blood as well.

Bone Marrow RegistryWhy does someone need a bone marrow/stem cell transplant?

Stem cell transplants are a lifesaving treatment option for those diagnosed with blood diseases like leukaemia, sickle cell disease, inherited genetic blood disorders and other bone marrow deficiencies.

Each year thousands of people with such blood diseases reach a stage where only this procedure offers a chance of cure.

What happens if I’m a potential match for someone?

When you’re identified as a potential match by the SABMR, you’ll undergo several rounds of testing and if you’re still a match after all the testing, you’ll be given a thorough medical examination to make sure that you are completely fit to donate stem cells.

How are stem cells donated?

Stem cells are collected using two methods, either peripheral blood stem cell collection or bone marrow stem cell collection.

Peripheral blood stem cell (PBSC) collection is the most likely method of collecting your stem cells. A PBSC donation is a nonsurgical procedure, also known as an apheresis. The patient is injected with Neupogen every day for 5 days before the procedure. This helps increase the number of blood stem cells in your bloodstream.

On the day of the PBSC procedure, a needle is inserted into a vein in the arm and peripheral blood passes into a cell separator machine that collects the stem cells.

The rest of the blood is returned to the bloodstream through a needle in your other arm. 

This process is similar to what is used when donating blood platelets. The procedure is usually completed in one session and takes about 4 to 6 hours.
The second method used is bone marrow stem cell collection, a surgical procedure that is seldom used in South Africa, however if it is in the patient’s best interest, the patient’s doctor might ask for a bone marrow stem cell collection instead.

During this procedure, some of your marrow is removed from the back of your pelvic bone, using sterile needles and syringes. The amount collected depends on the needs of the patient and the size of the donor.

You can register if you’re:

  • between 18-45 years old,
  • committed to helping others,
  • in good health (not a risk of contracting hepatitis or other sexually transmitted infections),
  • over 50 kg and have a body mass index (BMI) of <40,
  • a regular blood donor (preferable, but not necessary), and
  • prepared to remain on the SABMR until you’re 60 years old.

For a more detailed description of donor exclusion criteria, and the process of matching patients and donors, you can contact or the SABMR on 021 447 8638.

MihleCelebrating life

When Mihle Swanana was 18 months old her mother noticed that her daughter’s health was deteriorating even after several visits to their local clinic and doctors. After having blood tests done, Mihle was diagnosed with myeloid leukaemia, a type of blood cancer. A bone marrow transplant would offer her a new lease on life.

First Mihle's brother and sister were tested to determine whether they were bone marrow matches; unfortunately they weren’t. The South African Bone Marrow Registry, contacted by Dr Mathew, began searching for a matching bone marrow donor. Chances were slim, as the number of black donors on the local database is extremely low, but they struck it lucky - a perfect match for Mihle was found locally.

Mihle was transferred to the Red Cross War Memorial Children's Hospital (RCWMCH) in Cape Town, where she was treated in collaboration with Groote Schuur Hospital. She spent close to 6 months in an isolation ward where she underwent chemotherapy to prepare her for the transplant. 

The transplant was successful and when doctors were satisfied with her recovery Mihle was finally released. She still goes for regular check-ups, but for the most part Mihle is now a healthy 6 year old and attending school.

Register today!

If you want to register as a donor, 2 test tubes of blood will be drawn and analysed. Once this process is complete your data will be stored on the SABMR until you’re 60 years old.

Other ways you can help

There are many ways you can get involved with SABMR. You have the power to help, not only by registering as a donor, but also by volunteering your time, speaking out and donating.

The content on this page was last updated on 5 November 2019