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Graduating at 61: Age Limits on Donating Stem Cells and Bone Marrow

Feb 02, 2023 by Gift of Life News


Donors graduate from the registry at 61 years old due primarily to medical reasons. 

Being part of the registry brings the potential to save someone’s life, an exciting prospect! That said, when people learn there is an age limit to donating, they often question why they are prohibited by such constraints when they feel so committed to potentially saving a life. 


Younger donors produce better outcomes for recipients

After over 60 years of stem cell and marrow transplants, knowledge on how to secure the best outcomes for patients has grown exponentially, including two key pieces of information: 

Thus, for the benefit of the patient, transplant centers prefer younger donors, as they produce higher quantities of cells. However, that isn’t the only age-related factor that transplant centers take into donor consideration. 


Donor health affects transplant time

Donors must be in excellent health at the time of donation for not only their safety but also to give the patient the best possible chance of success. As people age they generally accumulate more health problems which can result in an older donor being unavailable when a transplant is urgently needed. 

Health issues that impact the success of a transplant often are not detected until the donor is already in the workup process, forcing a delay while a new donor is found. Delaying a transplant puts the patient’s life in jeopardy. Doctors are often reluctant to proceed with an older donor if a younger one – who is less likely to have health issues – is available. 


Marrow ages, like all human systems

Like every other system in the body, bone marrow ages. Structures at the end of chromosomes called telomeres limit the number of times a cell can reproduce. As people get older these telomeres get used up, and, without them, cells can no longer reproduce. Doctors are concerned that marrow from a 70-year-old donor transplanted into a 20-year-old patient may fail over time. 

Due to these factors, the World Marrow Donor Association requires donor registries to have an upper age limit not to exceed 60 years.  


But I still want to help!

Just because you graduate from the registry on your 61st birthday does not mean you can’t still help! In fact, Gift of Life needs your experience and skills more than ever. 

Your relationship with Gift of Life does not end on your 61st birthday. If there are other ways you can help, then let us know! Call our corporate office at 561-982-2900 or 1-800-962-7769 and speak to our Volunteer Coordinator to learn more about how you can be involved.

Thank you for your past and future support of Gift of Life.

Dr. Bruce A. Lenes
Medical Director