Donating bone marrow can be time consuming and painful, and there is no guarantee that you will be selected as a donor. That being said, if you are willing to go through the process, bone marrow donation can net you a significant amount of money. Many people aren’t aware of what this process entails. In this article, we’ve compiled all the important information that you need to know about bone marrow donation, including the donor requirements, expected compensation levels, and the risks and benefits of this procedure.
In This Article
What Is Bone Marrow and How Are Bone Marrow Donations Used?
Bone marrow is found inside of large bones, such as the hip bone or pelvis. Marrow contains two types of stem cells and is responsible for creating white and red blood cells, bone, and cartilage.
Bone marrow donations can help people who are living with lymphoma, leukemia, and sickle cell anemia, along with other medical conditions. Patients with these conditions sometimes receive bone marrow from someone else so that they can begin to produce their own red and white blood cells, bone, and cartilage without having to rely on blood donations. The stem cells within the marrow are also used for cancer research.
How Does Bone Marrow Donation Work and How Long Will It Take?
There are two ways to donate marrow — donating marrow itself and donating PBSC. These donation processes range from one hour to multiple days. You do not get to choose the type of donation you make; the doctor will choose what is best for the patient receiving the bone marrow donation.
1. Donate Marrow
Donating bone marrow is a surgical procedure, which only takes one to two hours. The procedure takes place in an operating room and usually requires general anesthesia, meaning you’ll be asleep for the whole thing. While you’re in surgery, the doctor will insert a needle into your pelvic bone and withdraw the marrow directly. The procedure doesn’t require any stitches, and you should be able to leave the same day.
2. Donate Peripheral Blood Stem Cells (PBSC)
Before you can donate PBSC, you must receive a daily injection of a drug called filgrastim, in the five days leading up to the donation. Filgrastim stimulates the production of PBSC, which means that the researchers end up with a higher number of useful cells after the donation.
Once you’ve received the necessary shot, you’ll go through a process called apheresis. This is basically like donating blood — blood is taken out of your arm through a needle, the necessary cells are filtered out of your blood, and then your filtered blood is returned to you through another needle. The process takes four to eight hours and may be spread out over two consecutive days.
Note: Occasionally, researchers will offer the option for a donation that doesn’t require filgrastim shots. In these cases, the PBSC donation without filgrastim is called a non-mobilized donation, and the one with filgrastim is called a mobilized donation.
What Are the Risks and Benefits of Donating Bone Marrow?
If you donate or sell your bone marrow, you may feel some pain, bruising, stiffness, and swelling for up to two weeks. It should take less than a week for you to be able to return to school, work, or your other regular activities. Otherwise, side effects are typically minimal for the normal marrow donation process.
For a non-mobilized donation, you may feel some localized pain and bruising at the needle-stick sites. Other effects are usually very limited.
If you decide to do a mobilized donation, you may experience flu-like symptoms. Most side effects will begin to subside within 48 hours of donation, and most donors report full recovery within a week of the procedure. More serious side effects are possible but rare. Each laboratory listed provides resources in the off-chance that you experience serious side effects following your donation.
Although there can be some pain and discomfort associated with bone marrow donation, your donation can save lives, both directly and indirectly. The bone marrow may go to a patient who needs it in order to survive, or it may go towards research for finding a cure for different types of cancer and genetic diseases.
Where Can You Donate Bone Marrow?
If you choose to donate bone marrow, there are only a few places though that will pay you. This is because it is illegal in the United States to sell body parts for money, and since bone marrow is considered a body part – unlike blood – the few places that do accept bone marrow donations are all medical organizations that are compensating you for the time it takes you to donate bone marrow instead of technically buying it from you.
1. Be the Match – CA, CO, FL, HI, IL, IN, IA, KS, MD, MA, MI, MN, MS, NJ, NY, OK, PA, RI, TN, TX, WI, Puerto Rico
- Who are they? Be the Match manages and matches the more than 13.5 million potential blood marrow donors on its registry with people in need of life-saving marrow transplants.
- How much money can you earn? You won’t be paid, but you’ll be reimbursed for travel costs and the costs of all medical procedures. Be the Match “may reimburse other costs on a case-by-case basis.”
- How will you be compensated? Cash.
- How often can you donate? Be the Match will contact you whenever there is a match for your donation.
- Donor requirements: To donate, you must be between 18 and 60 years old, not exhibit signs of a cold or other infection, and not be pregnant. If you’re in good health you should be just fine to donate. However, you won’t be allowed to register if you:
- have asthma
- have HIV or AIDS
- have a severe medical arthritic condition such as rheumatoid, reactive, psoriatic and advanced stages of other types of arthritis
- have autoimmune illnesses that affect your whole body
- have received xenotransplant (live tissues from animals)
- are severely underweight or have a BMI greater than 40
- …or have one of the other health concerns that Be the Match lists
- More information: Be the Match FAQs page
2. Fred Hutch — Seattle, Washington
Note: Fred Hutch is the only lab in the United States that offers a definitive price for marrow donations ($300 for non-mobilized and $800 for mobilized).
- Who are they? Fred Hutch uses bone marrow and blood donations for research purposes to help find treatments and cures for diseases like cancer and HIV.
- How much money can you earn? $300 for a non-mobilized donation and $800 for a mobilized one.
- How will you be compensated? Check.
- How often can you donate? You must wait at least ten weeks between donations. For non-mobilized donations, the length of time between donations depends on the researchers’ need. Due to a lack of research on the filgrastim shot, you can’t complete more than three mobilized donations in your life.
- Donor requirements: You must be between 18 and 70 years old. You won’t be allowed to donate if you:
- have donated blood within the last 72 hours
- have symptoms of an infection, including a cold
- have undergone leukapheresis within the past three weeks
- are pregnant
- More information: Fred Hutch Donor Program page
3. HemaCare — Van Nuys, California
- Who are they? HemaCare uses bone marrow and blood donations for research purposes to help find treatments and cures for diseases like cancer, HIV, and diabetes.
- How much money can you earn? How much you are paid depends on what you donate and how much. Compensation varies by donor and location. Call HemaCare beforehand to get a quote.
- How will you be compensated? HemaCare does pay you for your donation but doesn’t specify what form this payment comes in.
- How often can you donate? You can donate every ten weeks, as long as there is a need. Once you register with HemaCare, you’ll be contacted when they need additional donations.
- Donor requirements: To donate, you must be in good health and feeling well, be at least 18 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds, and not take any medications containing aspirin for 72 hours or ibuprofen for 24 hours before donating. You won’t be allowed to register as a donor if you:
- have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, or Hepatitis C
- have ever used needles to take drugs, steroids, or anything not prescribed by your doctor
- are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977
- have ever taken money, drugs, or any other form of payment for sex since 1977
- have had sexual contact in the past 12 months with anyone described above
- have had syphilis or gonorrhea in the past 12 months
- have been in juvenile detention, lockup, jail, or prison for more than 72 hours during the last 12 months
- lived in or visited the United Kingdom, which includes England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, the Isle of Mann, or the Channel Islands from 1980-1996 for a total of three months or more
- have spent five years or more (total) in Europe since 1980
- have visited a malaria-risk country within the last year
- More information: HemaCare FAQs page
4. LeukoLab — Bay Area, California, and Quincy, Massachusetts
- Who are they? LeukoLab uses your bone marrow donations to research treatments and cures for diseases like cancer.
- How much money can you earn? You’ll be paid based on what and how much you donate. This compensation level varies by donor and location.
- How will you be compensated? Check by mail within ten business days of donation.
- How often can you donate? You can donate every ten weeks, as long as there is a need. You’ll be contacted when researchers need more donations.
- Donor Requirements: You’ll have to fill out a screening form to see if you qualify as a donor. Things such as piercings, tattoos, sexual orientation, and recent travel do not disqualify you from being a donor.
- More information: Visit the LeukoLab FAQs page
If you’re looking for other medical ways to make money, check out our articles How to Donate Blood for Money and Earn $500 per Month and How to Sell Breast Milk + the List of Milk Banks That Pay for Breast Milk.
Donating bone marrow can be lifesaving for the recipients, and it could mean advancing the research to cure widespread and devastating diseases. However, there are few places in the U.S. that will provide any monetary compensation for donating bone marrow; and if they do, you should only expect to be reimbursed for your time and/or donation expenses, and not for the marrow itself.