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Why are the most-requested stem cell transplant donors 18 to 35 years old?

Jul 20, 2023 by Gift of Life News

While Gift of Life Marrow Registry will accept individuals between the ages of 18 and 60 onto the registry, we focus on recruiting people ages 18 to 35. One of the reasons for this is to provide the best possible treatment for patients. 

Younger donors give better outcomes

Doctors weigh many factors when selecting a donor for one of their patients, and the age of a potential donor is one of these factors. Data supports that donor age is significantly associated with disease-free survival of the patient (Kollman et al., 2001).

Blood stem cells age, just like other organs, so, like organs, they decline with age. Doctors cannot get as many cells from an older donor as they can from a younger one, and higher cell count is known to improve the chances of a successful transplant. 

Furthermore, there are proteins at the end of each cell’s chromosomes called telomeres, which are part of the cell division process. The length of telomeres directly correlates to a cell’s ability to divide: the shorter the telomeres, the fewer divisions and replications that cell can undergo. As people age and their cells have divided many times, the telomeres become progressively shorter, and when cells can no longer divide, tissues age.  

Transplanted stem cells from older donors likely have fewer replications left versus the stem cells of a younger donor, possibly limiting the potential lifespan of a recipient.

Age and disease prevalence

While many people over the age of 60 are in good health, the rate at which potential donors are found medically unable to donate is highest amongst older donors. These deferrals, which often happen late in the process, create further delays in the patient’s transplant timeline, presenting a significant health risk for them.  

A transplant must happen on schedule. If a patient has begun receiving therapies to clear their bone marrow before transplant, they are not able to survive without that transplant. If a donor suddenly becomes unable to donate late in the process, the patient’s chance of survival is severely impaired. 

Worldwide consistency

Gift of Life’s focus on recruiting 18- to 35-year-old donors is consistent with worldwide standards set by the World Marrow Donor Association. Many registries, like the Australian, Canadian, and United Kingdom’s national bone marrow registries, now only register donors through age 40, or even 35. 

What does this mean for 36+ year-old donors? 

Being over the age of 35 does not limit your ability to donate stem cell or bone marrow. While transplant physicians prefer younger donors, people in good health up to age 60 can and do still donate. 

You joined the registry in the hope of helping to save someone's life. Even if you are never called as a match, or have graduated from our registry, you can still have a lifesaving impact. We are actively seeking volunteers to help run drives and organize events – click here to apply to our Volunteer Network. 

You are welcome to sponsor a swab kit for someone else by making a financial contribution. Every $60 donated by a supporter pays for the lab testing of a swab kit to add a new donor to the registry. Just click here to become a monthly or one-time financial supporter. 

If you have any questions about donating blood stem cells and bone marrow, or anything else about the registry, please contact us and we’ll be happy to help.