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Types of Blood Donation

Platelet Donation

Platelets can be depleted as a result of certain diseases, medications, or surgery. Burn victims, organ and bone marrow transplant patients, those undergoing chemotherapy, and those who have undergone heart surgery often require platelet transfusions. Platelets may be collected by means of whole blood donations or in a process called plateletpheresis using a machine that separates platelets from the other blood components (i.e. plasma, red and white blood cells). If plateletpheresis is used, these other blood components will be returned to the donor's body. Platelets collected by means of whole blood donations must be pooled to yield a sufficient number of platelets to be useful and thus will expose the recipient to blood from more donors than plateletpheresis. Platelets are normally stored at room temperature and, unlike red cells which are stored for up to 42 days refrigerated, last only about five days. However, platelets are quickly replaced by new cells produced in the bone marrow, and a donor is allowed to donate platelets every three to 28 days. A number of common drugs, such as aspirin, affect platelet function, so the donor is not allow to consume these medications.

Almost anyone who is able to donate blood is also eligible for platelet donation.

Bone Marrow Donation

Bone marrow produces the body's blood cells, and when it does not produce enough or when the cells it produces are in some way defective, a bone marrow transplant may be required. A bone marrow transplant is used to help treat a variety of disorders, including leukemias, lymphomas, bone marrow failure, and various immune disorders.

Marrow can be extracted from a patient and stored for transplantation back into that same patient at a later time. Oftentimes, however, the patient is unable to produce enough healthy marrow for such use. In these cases, marrow that matches the patient's can be donated by a family member or unrelated donor.

Becoming a donor involves a simple genetic test to determine the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) profile. This is done through a cheek swab or a blood sample. The HLA profile of the donor is then compared to the patient's to see if the two match.

Because finding a matched donor can often be a challenge, potential donors are encouraged to register with the National Marrow Donor Program Registry, which stores information on the donor's HLA profile and matches it with the HLA types of patients nationwide. If a possible match is found, the registrant is contacted for further testing and health screening.

To learn more about donating bone marrow, please visit the National Marrow Donor Program website.

Cord Blood Banking Donation

Umbilical cord blood, like bone marrow, contains valuable stem cells that can be used to treat life-threatening illnesses, such as leukemia, lymphoma, sickle cell anemia, and immune deficiency and metabolic diseases. A baby's cord blood can be donated to a public bank or stored at a private bank for future use in a sibling or parent who has an illness that can be treated by a cord blood transplant.

A number of both public and private banks exist that can store cord blood for future use. The National Marrow Donor Program, which is overseen by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, launched a program in October 2008 that provides families affected by life-threatening diseases with the opportunity to store a new baby's cord blood at no cost.

For more information about cord blood donation and this program, please visit the Related Donor Cord Blood Program website.