Matched unrelated donor (MUD) stem cell transplants

If you’ve found out that you need a stem cell transplant and don't have a relative who can donate, another option is using stem cells from a matched unrelated donor. On this page we’ll explain what this means, how it works and why you might need one.

What’s on this page?

What is a matched unrelated donor transplant?

In a matched unrelated donor (MUD) transplant, doctors collect stem cells from a donor who is closely matched to you genetically.

We’ll search all donors on our register, as well as every potential donor available internationally, to find the best match. While the donor won’t be related to you like a haploidentical or sibling donor, an MUD might be the best possible chance of overcoming your condition.

What is a stem cell transplant?

If you haven’t yet read our page on understanding stem cell transplants, we recommend taking a look at the information to help you learn what it involves.

Who might need a matched unrelated donor transplant?

A matched unrelated donor transplant could be a treatment option if you have:

If you do not have the option of a sibling match, your transplant centre will get in touch with Anthony Nolan to find you a suitable donor. For more information, see our page on finding a donor for your stem cell transplant.

Amanda, who worked abroad after her transplant

Anthony Nolan found the perfect match for me, and that is probably why I am doing so well now. People who look at me now don't even realise that I was ever sick, which is a great feeling.

Amanda received stem cells from an unrelated donor to treat acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). You can read her story on our blog.

What will happen before the transplant?

Before your matched unrelated donor transplant, you’ll have conditioning therapy. This prepares your bone marrow and immune system for the new MUD stem cells. Your therapy might involve chemotherapy, sometimes with a type of radiotherapy called total body irradiation (TBI). This also removes remaining damaged cells causing your condition.

What will happen during the transplant?

Your transplant normally takes place the day after conditioning therapy finishes. Your MUD transplant normally takes place the day after your conditioning therapy finishes. The transplant itself involves the donor’s stem cells – held in a small bag of pale red liquid – passing through a thin tube into your bloodstream. It’s just like having a blood transfusion. You shouldn’t experience any pain and you’ll be awake the whole time.

Recovering from a matched unrelated donor transplant

You’ll probably stay in hospital for about three to four weeks after your transplant. You’ll need to spend some time in protective isolation while your immune system starts to recover. This usually means that you’ll be in your own room with safety measures in place to reduce the risk of you picking up an infection.

For more information about how to cope during this time, see our page on staying in protective isolation.

Once you’re back at home, you might feel that your recovery affects many aspects of your life. It could take six months to a year before your activity levels start to get back to how they were before.

For more information and advice, see our recovery section.

Will I get side effects after a MUD transplant?

After any type of transplant, many people experience a range of side effects, both short and long term. Most side effects apply to all types of transplants, while others are more specific to certain types.

Information updated: 24/05/2024

Next review due: 24/05/2027