The news often comes as a shock to families, and the search for stem cell donors is a race against time: around 700 children and young people in Germany are diagnosed with blood cancer every year, according to the Tübingen organization DKMS, which registers potential stem cell donors. Blood cancer is therefore the most common malignant disease in children. For some of those affected, a stem cell transplant is the last hope. Finding a suitable donor is often difficult. If it succeeds, the children and young people would have a good chance of being cured. It is important that many healthy people register as donors. The DKMS is once again urgently calling for this on World Childhood Cancer Day on February 15th.

“In the past few decades, there have been great advances in the treatment of most malignant diseases that occur in children and adolescents,” said Peter Bader, head of the stem cell transplant department at the Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at the University Hospital in Frankfurt/Main. Especially with acute lymphatic leukemia (ALL), the most common malignant disease in this age group, up to 90 percent of patients could now be cured. But: “For some of them, a stem cell transplant is necessary for a definitive cure.”

If no suitable donor can be found in the family circle, the patients are dependent on donors to whom they are not related. And that is exactly where the challenge lies: The tissue characteristics of the donor must match those of the patient as closely as possible so that there are no complications during the transplantation, according to the DKMS. There are more than 35,000 variants of these traits, occurring in millions of different combinations. It is therefore important to be able to check a large selection when looking for a suitable donor.

Any healthy person up to and including the age of 55 can register with the DKMS as a potential stem cell donor. “The requirements for donating to a child or an adult are the same,” said Bader. Also, according to the DKMS, only 10 percent of all stem cell donations are bone marrow extractions, which necessitate surgical intervention on the donor. In 90 percent of cases, the stem cells are obtained through an outpatient procedure in which the required amount of stem cells is filtered out of the blood.