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Peripheral blood stem cell donation


Stem cell donors are sometimes needed for patients who require a stem cell transplant. The donated stem cells can come from the bone marrow or from the peripheral blood. Peripheral blood is blood in the veins. Stem cells are early, immature cells that are produced in the bone marrow. They can grow up to be any type of blood cell — a white cell to fight infection, a red cell to carry oxygen or a platelet to help clot the blood.

A peripheral stem cell donation may involve 3 parts:

  • Blood donation
  • Stem cell mobilization
  • Stem cell collection (apheresis)

See also “Do you know… Harvesting bone marrow stem cells.”

Blood donation

Before St. Jude staff members start collecting stem cells, they may collect a unit of the donor’s blood to store for the patient.

They will also test the donor’s blood for viruses and other infectious diseases. This step is important because the patient receiving the stem cells will have no way to fight infection until the new stem cells start to grow.


The first step in the stem cell collection process is called mobilization. Blood stem cell “mobilization” refers to increasing the number of circulating stem cells for collection from the donor’s peripheral blood. The donor will receive a blood growth factor called “granulocyte colony stimulating factor” (G-CSF). It is given one (1) time a day as an injection until enough stem cells are collected from the blood. Usually this takes 3-5 days.

The side effects of G-CSF are usually mild and temporary. The most common side effects include flu-like symptoms—low grade fever, chills, bone pain, headache, and trouble sleeping. The doctor may order Tylenol® to relieve these symptoms. These side effects usually end after the stem cells are collected. Female donors of child-bearing age must have a pregnancy test prior to taking G-CSF.

See also “Do you know… How to give subcutaneous injections” and “Patient Medication - G-CSF.

Stem cell collection (apheresis)

Stem cells are collected using an apheresis machine. This machine takes peripheral blood from one vein in the donor’s arm and separates the stem cells from the other types of cells in the donor’s blood. The machine separates the stem cells and returns the remaining blood contents through the needle in the other arm. This machine is the same type used for platelet donations. Usually this process uses temporary IVs placed in the arms. During apheresis the anticoagulant citrate is given to prevent the blood from clotting while it is out of the body.

The apheresis process requires the donor to sit quietly 3 to 8 hours per day until enough stem cells are collected for transplant. This usually takes 1 to 3 days.

Side effects of apheresis

The apheresis procedure has side effects that are similar to those that can happen when people donate whole blood. The most common side effects include nausea, fainting, dizziness, and bruising at the site where the needle is placed. The added citrate may cause side effects including muscle cramping, numbness, a cold feeling, tingling sensations and anxious feelings. Sometimes calcium is given, either by mouth or through the vein, to prevent or treat these reactions.

Other possible side effects

After apheresis the donor’s platelet count or white blood cell count may be lower than before the procedure. This decrease is usually small. However, taking aspirin when the platelet count is low may increase the chance of bleeding. We recommend that donors do not take aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin while getting G-CSF and for 2 weeks after peripheral blood stem cell donation without consulting a doctor.


If you have questions about stem cell donation, talk to a doctor or nurse on the stem cell transplant team. If you are inside the hospital, dial 3300. Locally, call 595-3300. If you are outside the Memphis area, dial tollfree 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833), and press 0 once the call is connected.

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

ATTENTION: If you speak another language, assistance services, free of charge, are available to you. Call 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

ATENCIÓN: si habla español, tiene a su disposición servicios gratuitos de asistencia lingüística. Llame al 1-866-278-5833 (TTY: 1-901-595-1040).

تنبيه: إذا كنت تتحدث باللغة العربية فيمكنك الاستعانة بخدمات المساعدة اللغوية المتوفرة لك مجانا. .يرجى الاتصال بالرقم. 5833-278-866-1  (الهاتف النصي: 1040-595-901-1).