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Stem cells for transplant can come from bone marrow or from the blood. A bone marrow harvest is the procedure used to collect stem cells from bone marrow. Bone marrow is the soft, spongy tissue inside most bones. Bone marrow that is used for transplantation usually comes from the hip bone.
Stem cells for transplant can come from the patient or another person (donor). An autologous transplant uses the patient’s own stem cells. An allogeneic transplant uses stem cells harvested or collected from a donor.
Before the procedure, the medical staff will explain what to expect and answer any questions. In most cases, the donor will be asked to:
Bone marrow harvest is usually performed in an operating room under general anesthesia. The donor will be asleep during the procedure. The medical staff may use other forms of anesthesia to control pain.
Bone marrow is removed using a thin, hollow needle. This is similar to a bone marrow aspiration. A care provider will insert the collection needle through the skin into the back of the hip bone and into the bone marrow. In most cases, 2-4 sites are used. The needle is inserted several times until enough marrow is collected. Harvesting the marrow usually takes about an hour.
The harvested bone marrow is processed in a laboratory. The stem cells from the bone marrow may be given to the patient the same day or saved to use later. Harvested cells from the bone marrow can be combined with a preservative and frozen until needed.
After the procedure, the donor will be moved to a recovery area to recover from anesthesia.
Staff will place a large dressing on the lower back called a pressure dressing. The dressing helps to reduce swelling, bleeding, and bruising. Under this dressing, thin adhesive bandages (Steri-Strips) will be placed over each harvest site.
The donor may be able to leave the hospital the same day of the harvest procedure. Medical staff will give instructions on how to care for the harvest sites.
The day after the procedure, the donor will return to the clinic for lab work and an exam. A nurse will remove the dressing, check the harvest sites for any signs of infection, and give instructions for care of the sites.
Bone marrow harvest can cause short-term side effects. Side effects may include:
Most side effects are mild and go away in a few days. More serious problems are rare, but they can occur.
Always follow the specific instructions given by your care team.
Watch for signs of infection or other problems. Use a digital thermometer to monitor body temperature. Call your clinic or return to the hospital if there is:
Reviewed: April 2023