Information for Patients

Searching for a donor

If your doctor has decided that a bone marrow transplant is the best option for you, he/she will need to start a search for the most suitable donor.

For the transplant to have any real chance of succeeding, your tissue type must exactly match that of the donor. The most suitable donor for a bone marrow transplant is a fully matched family member, but only around one person in three has such a donor.

Your transplant doctor and treatment team will start a family search for a donor, beginning with your siblings. If a suitable donor is not found in your family, the next step is to start a search through ABMDR for an unrelated donor or cord blood unit.

Finding a match

ABMDR needs to know some information about you in order to start a search. This includes your tissue and blood type, as well as your name and date of birth. Your transplant team will provide us with this information.

Your tissue type is used to check how closely your cells match the potential donor’s cells. The closer the tissue type match, the better the chance of a successful transplant.

International searches

Around 80% of Australian patients will find that their best match is an overseas donor. Although we don’t charge Australian patients for our services, when we search overseas registries for a donor, we incur various fees. For example, overseas laboratories will charge us to test samples taken from potential donors; or international registries will charge to collect cells from a donor in their country. These costs must be covered, and ABMDR has an agreement with Australian governments to pay these costs for eligible patients, within certain limits.

Who is eligible?

To be eligible, patients must meet the following criteria:

  1. They are being treated by a transplant physician at an accredited Australian hospital
  2. A blood stem cell transplant is an approved treatment for their condition
  3. They reside in Australia
  4. Their most suitable donor is likely to be found overseas, and
  5. They hold a current, unconditional Medicare card.

Note that patients who are otherwise eligible but do not hold a current, unconditional Medicare card can make alternative payment arrangements through their transplant hospital, insurer or third parties, to cover any fees incurred by ABMDR.

How much is covered?

During the donor search phase, when potential donors are being tested and screened to identify the most suitable match, the maximum amount that ABMDR can be reimbursed by Australian governments is $12,000 per eligible patient. This is the patient’s ‘lifetime’ allocation and applies regardless of whether the potential donors are related to the patient or not. This amount is sufficient to ensure that ABMDR can comprehensively search overseas registries for the most suitable donor.

For example, ABMDR incurs $4,000 in fees testing a patient’s sibling living overseas, which results in a transplant. However, a year later the patient relapses and requires another transplant from an unrelated donor. ABMDR can then incur up to $8,000 in fees to identify the most suitable unrelated donor living overseas.

In addition, the donation and transportation costs are also covered for eligible patients. This includes the fees incurred when the most suitable donor makes their blood stem cell donation overseas and the cells are transported to Australia; or, alternatively, the costs involved in having the overseas donor travel to Australia to make the donation. There is no limit that applies to these fees.

How do patients apply?

There is nothing that you need to do – your transplant team will make all the necessary arrangements with ABMDR on your behalf.

More information can be found on the Commonwealth’s Department of Health website.