How It Works

From swab to call: The process of becoming a bone marrow donor.

“What do I have to do to become a bone marrow donor?” It’s a question we hear all the time. So many people want to help, but they don’t know what the process entails. We’re here to help! We can dispel the myths and break down just what happens from the time you swab your cheeks to completing a lifesaving donation. It starts with a simple cheek swab. It’s easy and takes less than five minutes. That’s right. You could join the bone marrow donor registry and it only takes five minutes of your time to do so. You fill out your contact information, we will send you the swab kit and then you’ll follow the instructions to swab and send the kit back. Sending it back is very important, we can’t add you to the pool unless we have your swabs.

By joining the registry, you should be certain that you are prepared to donate when called

After all, just swabbing your cheeks is the best shot you can give to patients who are fighting for a second chance at life.


Swabbing is easy. And takes mere minutes. Think about that! Just a few minutes can help save someone’s life.

What happens with the swab? Using your cheek-swab sample, DKMS tests for Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) tissue markers. These protein ‘markers’ are found on most cells in your body. Once HLA markers are identified, your tissue type is entered anonymously into the national bone marrow donor registry – “the lifesaver list” -- and assigned a donor number. The database is linked to global registries, searchable for any patient around the world.

HLA Test

When a patient’s doctor starts the search for a matching bone marrow donor, they will generally look at 10 specific HLA markers to determine a match. Most require at least a 9 out of 10 match, but a 10 out of 10 is best. The closer the match, the better the chance that the patient’s immune system will recognize the donated cells as its own and allow them to grow and make new healthy blood cells. It is very hard for patients to find a matching bone marrow donor, and for a patient of color, it is even more difficult due to the lack of diversity on the national bone marrow registry.

DKMS Life Science Lab provide a high quality immunogenetic genotyping services.


Once you're on the registry, you are on standby to save a life. It’s. Awesome.

If called, you should be ready to donate, and willing to donate to any patient in need. You may be the only match for a patient in need. There are two ways that you can donate bone marrow, in order to do so you must be a perfect match for a patient in need. Once you are a match for a patient. The patient’s doctor chooses the method that promises the best outcome for the patient.

Answer The Call

We will reach out via phone call, text, and email if you’re a lifesaving match. Please make sure to update your information, in case you move or change your email address. A patient's life may be depending on you.


Read more about what she wants her recipient to know about why she stepped up to save a life.

In the event you are matched to a patient in need, you may need to travel to one of our nearest transplant centers. Most times we try our best to coordinate your donation in your home state. There may a case where your home state cannot host the donation because of timing or the lack of necessary tools. We work with various transplant centers in the United States. If you do need to travel, we will cover the expenses for you and a guest. We will organize everything for you. Prior to donation, you will be required to undergo a physical examination to make sure you are the best possible fit for the patient in need. If all goes well, you will move on to donate.



Once you are a match for a patient, the patient’s doctor chooses the method that promises the best outcome for the patient.

Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Donation

Through peripheral blood stem cell donation cells are collected from the bloodstream. To increase your blood stem cells prior to donation, you will receive daily injections of a synthetic protein called filgrastim on the four days leading up to and on the morning of the procedure. The actual donation can take from 4-8 hours over the course of 1-2 days. On the day of collection, the donor’s blood is removed with a sterile needle from one arm and passed through the apheresis machine that separates out the blood stem cells. The remaining blood is returned to the donor through the other arm. The cell collection is an outpatient procedure that takes about 6-8 hours over one day. This method is used for 75% of donations.


Bone Marrow Extraction

Through bone marrow extraction, cells are collected from the pelvic bone while you are under anesthesia. Marrow cells are collected from the backside of the pelvic bone (not the spine) using a special syringe. Donors receive general anesthesia so no pain is experienced during the extraction. This is a 1-2 hour, out-patient surgical procedure. This method is used for the remaining 25% of donations.


Generally, donors will feel a little muscle soreness for a few days as if they just completed a workout. It is recommended to avoid lifting heavy objects for a day or two after donating. You should expect to return to work, school and most other activities within 1 to 7 days. Your marrow will return to normal levels within a few weeks. It’s important to note that bone marrow donor recovery times will vary depending on the individual and the type of donation discussed above.

PBSC donation recovery time: The median time to full recovery for a PBSC donation is one week (seven days).

Bone marrow donation recovery time: The median time to full recovery for a marrow donation is 20 days.

Note: Median time is defined as the middle number in a range of numbers. We will follow up with you until you report a full physical recovery.


Lifesaving starts here!

Registering for the chance to save a life is exciting, but before you begin, please be sure you haven’t registered before with another donor center. Also, we ask that all registered donors be willing to donate to any patient. Lastly, please scroll down to review the two ways to donate.

Let's get started!


As a registered bone marrow donor, you will be on standby to save a life.

I currently reside in the United States.

United States

I am a member of the military.

Please enter your date of birth.

I am in overall good health.

Not sure?

Let's do a quick check

Please enter your details

You are eligible!

Next step... Complete the registration process.

Thank you for caring.

If you live outside the United States please contact a donor center in the country where you live.


You could be eligible to register on our international offices:


or you can...

Make a gift

Thank you for caring.

Members of the military can register with The C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Marrow Donor Program.


There are other ways to help.

Help us raise funds

Thank you for caring.

You must be between the ages of 18 and 55.


But there are still many other ways to help!

Help us raise funds


Thank you for caring.

You have to be healthy in order to be eligible.


But there are still many other ways to help!

Help us raise funds


Thank you for caring.

You must have a body mass index of 40 or below.


But there are still many other ways to help!

Help us raise funds



Are you in overall good health?

We want to make sure that helping a patient won’t impact your health. Please review the following list of criteria. If you are not sure about a requirement, feel free to call us at 866.340.3567.


  • Between the ages of 18 and 55
  • In good general health


  • HIV
  • History of heart surgery or heart disease
  • Autoimmune disorders such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or fibromyalgia
  • Sleep apnea, breathing problems or severe asthma (daily inhalers are acceptable)
  • Diabetes requiring injectable medication
  • Hepatitis B or C
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • History of stroke, including TIA
  • Chronic or severe neck, spine or back problems
  • Epilepsy or other seizure within one year
  • History of blood clotting or bleeding disorders
  • History of head injury or multiple concussions
  • Personal history of cancer (exceptions: Stage 0 or in situ melanoma, breast, bladder, cervical and cured localized skin cancer such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma)

If you have questions about whether your medical history would prevent you from donating, please contact or 212.209.6700.

You could be someone's lifesaver!

She Became a Bone Marrow Donor and Saved a Life!
She Became a Bone Marrow Donor and Saved a Life!

Approximately 70% of all patients in need of bone marrow transplants must find a matching donor outside of their family. Watch this video to learn how Madison dedicated her time to save a strangers life.

Inspire Others

Other Ways to Help

100% of every gift you make helps us recruit more potential lifesavers.

Encourage Friends

Word of mouth is a powerful force in raising awareness and registering donors.

We need more lifesavers, Host a drive to help us register potential marrow donors.