Those unfamiliar with blood and plasma donations are generally under the impression that plasma and whole blood donations are handled and utilized in similar ways. Although there are many similarities in the donor selection process and some of the donation testing, the donations themselves are used to help patients in very different ways.
What does whole blood donation mean? This term refers to the donation of the combination of red and white blood cells, platelets and plasma. Because the body is losing large amounts of cells and platelets, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires eight weeks between each donation.
Plasma, on the other hand, is composed of mostly water (about 90 percent) and a mixture of proteins and antibodies (about 10 percent), that are vital to the body’s ability to maintain critical functions, such as controlling bleeding and fighting infections. Plasma is donated through a process called plasmapheresis, which involves the return of red blood cells to the donor after separating the plasma from the whole blood. This process is more time-consuming than whole blood donation but provides the opportunity for more frequent, safe donations. Plasma donors can give twice a week, but there must be two days between each donation. Since plasma donation takes longer and can be done more often, donors receive a small compensation for their time.
People who are missing some of the proteins in their plasma could have a life-threatening condition such as hemophilia or an immune deficiency disorder. The number of proteins in a single donation are so few one donation is insufficient for even one treatment dose. In fact, it takes anywhere from 130 to 1,200 donations to treat one patient for just one year. Additionally, the production of plasma medicines is lengthy and complex, taking up to 12 months from the time the donation is made until the medicine is ready to be used by patients.
Whole blood donations, however, can be transfused directly into a patient or split into components (blood cells, platelets and plasma). In fact, one single donation can save as many as three lives. Some of the patients who typically require whole blood are those with cancer (such as leukemia), those who receive an organ or bone marrow transplant, premature babies and those who suffer traumatic injuries or are undergoing certain surgeries.
Whole blood collected at blood donor centers contains fragile blood cells and cannot be frozen because it would destroy the critical cells. An average unit of blood lasts up to 42 days. Unlike whole blood donations, sourced plasma does not contain any cells. It is frozen immediately and can be stored for a longer period of time. During this time, the plasma undergoes additional safety measures that cannot be done with whole blood donations, such as a 60-day inventory hold and only allowing plasma from repeat donors to be used in the production of plasma medicines.
Blood and plasma donation are dependent on the healthy committed donors who regularly visit blood and plasma donor centers in the United States. All individuals are encouraged to commit to one or the other. To learn more about plasma donation, visit a Grifols plasma donor center in Salt Lake or Sandy or go towww.grifolsplasma.com.