What are Bone Marrow Cells?

K T Solis

Bone marrow is tissue located within the bones of the body. It is a sponge-like material primarily residing in the hip and thigh bones. Bone marrow cells are the cells that can be found within this tissue. The three primary types of bone marrow cells are white blood cells, red blood cells, and platelets.

Three pieces of bone with the marrow in the middle.
Three pieces of bone with the marrow in the middle.

White blood cells protect the body from invading bacteria, thereby preventing infection. Red blood cells change iron into hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen to other parts of the body. Finally, platelets assist in blood clotting. These three main types of bone marrow cells work together to ensure that the body remains healthy.

A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing the bone marrow.
A diagram of the anatomy of a bone, showing the bone marrow.

If the body does not produce bone marrow cells properly, a bone marrow disorder or disease can result. The most common types of bone marrow disease are leukemia, myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), and aplastic anemia. Many of them share the same symptoms.

Red blood cells convert iron into hemoglobin.
Red blood cells convert iron into hemoglobin.

Leukemia is a serious form of cancer caused by an abnormal white blood cell reproducing itself. The new white blood cells produced from the abnormal cell are unable to ward off infections. They also prevent the growth of healthy bone marrow cells. Symptoms of leukemia include bone and joint pain, bruising, bleeding, recurring infections, and exhaustion.

Myelodysplastic syndromes is a group of bone marrow diseases caused by the production of abnormal bone marrow cells as well. Patients suffering from these types of bone marrow diseases experience abnormal bruising and bleeding. They will also experience infections and anemia.

Aplastic anemia is caused by the reduction of healthy bone marrow cells produced in the body. When the bone marrow is unable to replace dead bone marrow cells with healthy new ones, aplastic anemia can occur. Patients who suffer from this bone marrow disorder will experience fatigue, bleeding, bleeding gums, nosebleeds, and frequent infections. Some patients with bone marrow disease may suffer from swollen glands as a response to frequent infections.

If a doctor suspects that a patient has a bone marrow disorder, he or she will order a bone marrow procedure. In this procedure, the doctor uses a special needle to extract bone marrow from the bone's core. The marrow is then examined to determine if the patient suffers from a bone marrow disorder.

Doctors treat bone marrow diseases according to the seriousness of the condition. Some disorders of blood marrow cells can be treated through medication. More serious bone marrow diseases require bone marrow transplants or blood transfusions.

Treatment for bone marrow disease may include blood transfusions.
Treatment for bone marrow disease may include blood transfusions.

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Discussion Comments


@bagley79 - Those who find family members who are matches as a bone marrow donor are very fortunate.

We have some friends whose daughter was recently diagnosed with leukemia as well. She is a young woman in her 30's with three small children.

There weren't any family members who were a match, so they had an event where people could give a saliva sample if they were interested to see if they might be a match.

They eventually found someone, and she is responding quite well to the transplant. The medical advances they have made with stem cells and bone marrow has been able to make a big difference in many peoples lives.

I know if it was one of my family members who needed a transplant like this, I would be forever grateful for others who were willing to be donors.


We have a friend who is currently in the hospital getting ready to receive a bone marrow stem cell transplant.

He was diagnosed with leukemia a few years ago, and his blood counts got to the point where they needed to do a bone marrow transplant or he did not have many months left to live.

His brother ended up being a perfect match for him, so that was a good thing. He was in the hospital for a week before the transplant where they pretty much brought his body down to nothing before they did the transplant.

It was very important that he did not get any kind of fever or infection. It is amazing to me what they can do with this type of medical treatment and how his body receives these new bone marrow cells.

Everyone is sure hoping this will extend his life for many years. His brother had some pain all through his body from the medication and procedure but this is supposed to be short term. If it can make a difference for his brother, it is well worth it.

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