Why does the registry have an age limit?
There are compelling medical reasons that donors graduate from the registry at age 61.
Joining the marrow registry brings with it the potential to save a life. It’s an exciting prospect! But sometimes when people learn there is an age limit to joining, they question why such a restriction exists.
Younger donors produce a better outcome for recipients
After nearly 60 years of bone marrow transplants, knowledge about how to get the best outcome for a patient has grown tremendously, including two key points:
- The higher the number of stem cells transplanted, the more likely those cells will start producing new marrow, blood and immune cells.
- Younger donors produce more stem cells than older donors.
The higher numbers of cells produced by younger donors lead transplant centers to prefer them over older donors, because it is better for the patient. But that isn’t the only age-related factor they must take into consideration.
Donor health issues can delay transplant
Marrow donors must be in excellent health at the time they are needed for donation, both for their own safety and to give the best possible chance to the patient. As we age, we accumulate more health problems, and these can result in an older donor becoming unavailable at the time when a transplant is urgently needed.
Health issues that can affect the success of a transplant are often not detected until the donor is already in the workup process, forcing a delay to the transplant while a new donor is found. Delaying a transplant puts the patient’s life in jeopardy. Therefore, 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, just like all our other systems
Along with every other system in the body, bone marrow ages. Structures at the ends of the chromosomes called telomeres limit the number of times a cell can reproduce. As we get older, telomeres are gradually used up, and without them, cells can no longer reproduce. Doctors worry that marrow transplanted from a 70-year-old donor to a 20-year-old patient may eventually fail.
Due to these factors, many countries have set a lower age limit for donors.
But I still want to do something to help!
And you can. Just because you graduate from the registry on your 61st birthday does not mean you are done. In fact, Gift of Life needs your experience and skills more than ever.
- Replace yourself: You can recruit a young donor to replace you in the registry. Invite your child or grandchild (aged 18 through 45) to join the registry. You could also invite Gift of Life to meet with an organization you or a family member are involved with to set up a recruitment drive. We work with many community and youth organizations across the United States, and would be happy to help set up a drive.
- Advocate: We need people who believe in our mission to spread the word. If you love public speaking, help us by telling our story to your colleagues, in your community, to the media. If you like to write, jot down why you support Gift of Life and send it to us – we’ll post your story on our website.
- Volunteer: We need to draw on your experience and expertise to help us as volunteers: Gift of Life holds hundreds of donor recruitment drives and dozens of events every year, and the help of volunteers is what makes them so successful. Your experience in management, organization, motivating others, and leading is invaluable to us at our Steps for Life events and in our committees for our other events. We can always use help with day-to-day activities at our office in Boca Raton.
- Fundraise: Perhaps you love the challenge of fundraising? Gift of Life is constantly raising funds to offset the laboratory processing of swab kits. Gift of Life is not government funded and each kit costs $60 to tissue type. Whether you want to contribute yourself, or leverage a lifetime of business connections to help us reach a larger community, every effort is welcomed. By starting your own Donor Circle, you can monitor your fundraising efforts and see in real time how many donors your contributions have sponsored, and how many transplants have resulted.
Your relationship with Gift of Life doesn’t simply end on your 61st birthday. Be creative, think of ways that you can help and let us know – we are always open to new and creative approaches to reaching more donors, whether marrow donors or financial supporters.
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