Now more than ever, the importance of second chances at life

As an international non-profit organization, every day DKMS provides 20 lifesaving blood stem cell transplants for blood cancer and blood disorder patients all around the world. Even in the current situation that we are facing with COVID-19, these patients still urgently need our help. It is for this reason that we keep fighting and continue to work together and collaborate with the international blood stem cell community to be able to overcome all barriers, to give as many patients as possible, who are in urgent need of a life-saving blood stem cell transplant, with a second chance at life.

IMPORTANCE OF REGISTRATION

Due to the advice and directions from the health authorities regarding the COVID-19 virus and to play our part to flatten the curve, DKMS-BMST has postponed all of our planned donor drives/registration events. We want to make sure that we look after and protect all of our donors and volunteers. For the thousands of patients around the world who are not able to find a perfect match, we still urgently need to add more donors to the database. We are thankful for every registration and you can still order your registration kit online at www.dkms-bmst.org/register Registering is simple and straightforward and you can become a potential lifesaver!

PROTECTING OUR DONORS

Patients around the world still urgently need blood stem cell transplants to survive. This is why we ask all of our donors to make themselves available if they are a match for a patient. The health and well-being of our donors is our number one priority and we consider every case on an individual basis. We will always do everything possible to ensure the safety of our donors. We have implemented screening for the COVID-19 virus risks before entry to collection centers and before the start of a donation. These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the recipient and the employees in the collection centers. Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that the COVID-19 virus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

We are grateful for every one of our incredible donors and for their commitment to providing patients with a second chance at life.

Transport of blood stem cell products

The blood stem cell collections from DKMS-BMST donors sometimes travel across borders to patients in other countries. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries, we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved in the transport, as well as with the relevant national and international authorities and organizations. Despite the added difficulties that we are facing at the moment, as always we are determined to overcome all barriers in order to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life.

FAQS

1. Why have donor drives been cancelled or postponed and what is the alternative?

In light of the increasing spread of the COVID-19 virus, DKMS-BMST is postponing all planned events and registration drives for new potential blood stem cell donors until further notice. DKMS-BMST sees itself with a special duty of care and with these measures specifically follows the recommendations of the state and the central government for the protection of the population.

Blood cancer patients around the world are still in urgent need of blood stem cell transplants and many are still not able to find a matching donor. This is why DKMS-BMST continues to encourage everyone that is able to, to register as a blood stem cell donor and if required, to also make themselves available for a donation."We must not abandon any patient who is currently searching for a blood stem cell donor or waiting for a life-saving blood stem cell transplant. In this difficult situation, I urgently ask that everyone continues to make themselves available as donors. We are taking all precautions necessary to protect each and every one of our donors in the best possible way," said Dr. Elke Neujahr, Global CEO DKMS.

We are grateful for every registration and to enable everyone that is interested to be able to register, DKMS-BMST offers the possibility of online registration at www.dkms-bmst.org/register. Anyone who is interested can easily order a registration kit to be sent to their home. With the help of three cotton swabs and clear instructions, as well as a consent form, every potential new donor can take a cheek swab themselves and send it via post back to DKMS-BMST. In the DKMS Life Science Lab the individual HLA characteristics (also: tissue characteristics) of the donor are then analyzed, allowing the potential donor to be registered in the DKMS database.

2. Am I still able to register online if I suspect that I may have or do have COVID-19?

Unfortunately, it is not possible to register as a blood stem cell donor for anyone who is under ordered quarantine. This includes acute COVID-19 patients, those who have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and people they have been in contact with. Please wait until you are no longer in quarantine and are able to leave your home before ordering a swab kit so that you will also be able to safely return it to us.

3. What if I am not allowed to leave the house. How do I return my registration kit?

We ask everyone to please follow the guidelines and regulations in place for your local area, our donor's safety is our number one priority and this means both potential and registered donors. If you are showing any symptoms of COVID-19, have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus, have been in contact with someone who has been confirmed with the COVID-19 virus or if local authorities have advised you to stay at home then please wait until you are able to leave home to do your cheek swab and return your kit to us.

However, if you are able to leave your home, then we are always happy to receive completed registration kits! Please remember that the swab kits are fine to use for approximately two years, so while we normally ask you to please return them as soon as possible, due to the current circumstances, please only do this when it is safe for you to do so. However, once you have done your cheek swabs it is always best if we receive your swabs within 2 – 3 weeks, so if you are not able to currently post your swabs back then please wait to do your cheek swabs until you know that you can send them back. Please remember, if you have already done your swabs then please only send them back once it is safe to do so.

4. When I receive my swab kit at home, is it safe to handle and open it? Should I wear gloves?

Human coronaviruses are not very stable on dry surfaces, such as paper or cardboard; this means that they do not survive very long on these materials. The stability depends on many factors, including the temperature, humidity, the viral quantity, and the material. According to a US publication(1) from March 17th, the decay of the COVID-19 virus in a dried state takes up to 24 hours on cardboard, which as a material can be compared to our swab kits. Therefore, the transmission is unlikely, but cannot be excluded.

To protect yourself from virus transmission through possibly contaminated surfaces we advise donors to follow the general hygiene recommendations such as regularly washing your hands and avoiding touching your face.

5. If I don’t have any COVID-19 symptoms or haven’t been diagnosed with the virus, should I take extra precautions before using

If you do not have any COVID-19 symptoms and have not tested positive for the virus in the last 28 days, then you do not need to take any special precautions when taking your cheek swabs, except for following the general hygiene and physical distancing rules and recommendations.

Please also remember it is not possible to register as a blood stem cell donor for anyone who is under ordered quarantine. This includes acute COVID-19 patients, those who have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and people they have been in contact with. Our swab kits are ok to use for approximately two years, so you can keep the kit at home and complete the process once it is safe to do so.

6. Do I need to leave my kit in quarantine before sending it back?

It is not necessary to put your kit in quarantine before sending it back to us. To protect all of our staff, when we receive the swab kits back in our office, before handling the kits and swabs, we wait for the minimum amount of time until the risk of transmission of the virus can be excluded. However, please follow the guidelines from your local authorities and only leave your home when it is safe to do so and if you are not under quarantine restrictions.

7. I registered online and haven’t received a confirmation, is there a delay?

We ask anyone registering as a potential donor online for their understanding. Normally we send all registration kits that we receive to our lab in Germany within 2 to 8 weeks, however, to protect all of our staff, when we receive the swab kits back in our office, before handling the kits and swabs, we wait for a reasonable amount of time (over 24 hours) until the risk of transmission of the virus can be excluded. Please be assured that the analysis of your sample and HLA characteristics that is required for us to add you to the register, will take place as soon as possible.

8. How will DKMS-BMST maintain the safety of donors?

The health and safety of our donors is our highest priority. We will consider the circumstances of all of our donors who are asked to donate their blood stem cells, on an individual basis, especially regarding their travel to a collection center. We will ensure the best and safest solution possible.

Even during the current situation, potential blood stem cell donors registered with DKMS-BMST are contacted daily in order to donate stem cells for people facing life-threatening diseases. The health and well-being of these donors will always have priority. Each individual case and any concerns are discussed personally with the donor - especially regarding the journey to the collection center. DKMS-BMST works closely with all donors throughout the entire process.

9. Can donors postpone their donation at this time?

The final decision to donate is always made by the actual donor. If you have been asked to donate and if you have any concerns then please contact your DKMS-BMST coordinator. We always discuss each case on an individual basis to find the best solution.

10. Is it still safe for patients to receive a transplant?

Health experts have confirmed that there is currently no evidence that the novel Coronavirus can be transmitted via blood, bone marrow, or stem cell products.

11. How is the transport of collections from donors impacted by the current travel restrictions?

The majority of blood stem cell collections from DKMS-BMST donors travel across borders to patients in other Indian states. Due to the travel restrictions imposed by many countries, we are in regular and close contact with all parties involved in the transport, as well as with the relevant national and international authorities and organizations. Despite the added difficulties that we are facing at the moment, we are, as always, determined to overcome all barriers in order to provide as many patients as possible with a second chance at life.

12. How will the spread of the COVID-19 virus affect DKMS-BMST and its operations?

As with every organization across the world, DKMS-BMST is facing challenges caused by COVID-19 and some of the potential impacts are still not yet known. The goal of DKMS-BMST remains the same as it always has been and that is, together with our outstanding team of donors and employees, to give as many patients as possible around the world a second chance at life, through a life-saving blood stem cell transplant. The management team of DKMS-BMST is working around the clock together with all DKMS-BMST employees and relevant stakeholders to achieve this goal.

13. How will DKMS-BMST respond as the situation evolves?

A dedicated team made up of experts from relevant departments at DKMS-BMST is constantly monitoring and evaluating the ongoing situation and will act accordingly. We will continue to keep our donors and all stakeholders updated.

14. Is DKMS-BMST testing potential donors during the registration process?

DKMS-BMST does not test potential donors who register with us for the COVID-19 virus. It is not possible to register as a blood stem cell donor for anyone who is under ordered quarantine. This includes acute COVID-19 patients, those who have recently tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and people they have been in contact with. For donors who are asked to donate we have implemented screening for the COVID-19 virus risks before entry to collection centers and before the start of a donation. These measures serve to protect the donor as well as the recipient and the employees in the collection centers.

15. If I am a potential donor and I have questions, who should I contact?

If you have been contacted by DKMS-BMST as a potential donor and if you have any questions or concerns then please get in touch with your DKMS-BMST coordinator. As always, DKMS-BMST staff are there to help you through the process and answer any questions that you may have.

16. What additional medical measures are taken to ensure that the transplants arrive?

To answer this question, it is important to know the standard procedure of stem cell transport. The aim of this transport is to deliver the stem cells or bone marrow as quickly as possible by couriers (using special transport) to the specialist center in order to transplant the patient. The patient is conditioned at the same time as the donor's stem cells are collected. If the conditioning - i.e. the pre-treatment - of a patient for stem cell transplantation has begun with high-dose chemotherapy and radiation, it is essential that the transplant takes place promptly. The risk that patients will not receive their transplant in time due to the constantly changing situation must be minimized as much as possible in the current corona crisis. Therefore, all professional societies as well as DKMS-BMST recommend the following temporary procedure.

We are currently discussing with the transplantation centers about the possibility of cryopreservation, i.e. the freezing of the stem cell products at minus 180 degrees Celsius, either in the transplantation center or in our collection center. In this case, the transplantation of the patient could - after consultation - be performed with a time delay. We want to help all patients – to do this we try to make everything possible at DKMS-BMST. We cannot risk that our patients will not make it because they cannot get a transplant.

Other ways to help

There are many ways to support our fight against blood cancer.