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Blood and Plasma:
Two ways of saving life

Whole blood consists of two main components; red blood cells which represent about 45% of the volume of a unit of blood, and plasma, which is the liquid portion of blood, making up the remaining 55%. Whole blood collected from a donor by an organization such as the Red Cross is routinely separated into these two components by centrifugation. These components are used for a variety of clinical conditions.

Another kind of donation is called “plasmapheresis” whereby the whole blood is drawn from the donor’s vein into a machine which separates plasma from the red cells by filtration or centrifugation. Once the red cells are separated from the plasma, they are returned to the donor using the same vein or a different one, depending on the machine used, and the plasma is used for a number of clinical or industrial purposes. The plasmapheresis procedure allows plasma to be collected more frequently from an individual than whole blood because the human body regenerates plasma within a few days while red blood cells require a few weeks. In the United States, a donor can donate plasma up to twice a week while for whole blood it is just once every three months. In most other countries the plasma donation frequency is once every week or two.

Red cells and whole blood are used to treat traumatic or surgical blood loss, as well as anemia. Plasma is used to correct deficiencies of certain coagulation factors, as well as trauma, shock and many other medical conditions. Plasma serves also as the raw material to manufacture a number of “plasma-derived” drugs through an industrial process called “fractionation” which isolates each “fraction” of the plasma by means of various chemical and physical methods and turns them into life-saving drugs: coagulation factor concentrates, immunoglobulins, albumin and others.

The following document comprises five sections: