What is Donated Plasma Used For and Why is it Needed

Most people initially consider plasma donation as a way to earn some extra money.  What they don’t realize is they’re also helping to save lives at the same time.

Honestly, most donors I talk to don’t have any idea what their plasma is used for.  Once they find out, they are so excited and proud of what they are doing. In fact, many of them become even more committed to donating as their reason why changes.

Uses of Donated Plasma

The plasma you donate is used to make life-saving therapies.  Your plasma will go through a process called fractionation where the key proteins are separated.  These proteins will be used to make therapies to treat specific conditions. Given the complexity of the human body, plasma is not something that can be artificially created.  The generosity of plasma donors is the only way to make these critical medicines for patients.

Here is a list of some rare conditions that are treated from therapies created from plasma. You have likely never heard of most of these, which is one of the reasons why people don’t know how their plasma is used.

  • Hemophilia A & B
  • Von Willebrand disease
  • Antithrombin III deficiency
  • Primary Innumodefiency disease (PID)
  • Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP)
  • Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP)
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Alpha-1 Antitrypsin deficiency
  • Hereditary Angioedema

Plasma is also used to treat other issues such as:

  • Liver cirrhosis
  • Overdose of anticoagulants
  • Secondary immunodeficiencies from chemotherapy & viruses
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • RH negative pregnancies
  • Infectious diseases, such as rabies, tetanus, hepatitis
  • Organ transplants
  • Medical emergencies for burns, shock, and trauma
  • Surgical procedures

What is Plasma

Plasma is one of the 4 key components in your blood, along with red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets.  It is a yellowish liquid and makes up roughly 55% of your blood volume.  Over 90% of plasma is water and helps keep your blood flowing throughout your body. 

plasma and red blood cells separated in tubes

Plasma serves a few critical roles in keeping you healthy.  As the liquid portion of the blood, it serves to transport materials throughout your body.  Plasma also contains key nutrients that are needed for your health. These proteins are what make plasma donation so critical. There are 3 main types of proteins in plasma:

  • Albumin helps balance out the fluid pressure in your blood
  • Fibrinogen facilitates blood clotting
  • Globulins are used by the body to fight off infections

Plasma is also naturally regenerating so it is okay to donate a portion of them.  Your body will typically regenerate the plasma in about 48 hours. This is very different from donating blood (red blood cells) which can take up to 8 weeks to regenerate.  

Why Donate Plasma

Plasma donation is sometimes referred to as the “gift of life”.  There is a strong global need for plasma and that need continues to grow year after year.  There are a few factors driving the increasing global need for plasma:

  • A growing list of conditions that plasma therapies can treat
  • Stronger disease awareness and faster diagnosis
  • Global expansion
  • Long term need of the patients

Your plasma contains hundreds of proteins. When any of them are out of balance, it can impact how your body functions.  Research is constantly being performed to expand the understanding of how plasma can be used to treat a wider range of conditions.  Over time, more and more uses of plasma are being identified.  

Many of the conditions treated by plasma therapies are rare and not diagnosed correctly.   It can take years before the actual cause is identified and treated effectively. With more education and awareness, the timeframe to get to the right diagnosis is shortening. This is creating a larger population of patients who become reliant on these medicines.  

There’s an increase in global awareness regarding the importance of plasma protein medicines and their benefits.  Various governments are creating favorable initiatives to expand the use of these therapies within their various countries.  

Many of the patients who use plasma-based medicines have a life-long need.  These therapies are not a cure, but help manage the conditions. Without a consistent supply of donated plasma, it could result in a shortage of medicine for patients in need.  This is becoming critical as more patients across the world are using plasma-based therapies.

I hope this helps you understand more about plasma and why donors like you are so important. This is part of a series of articles I have on donating plasma.  Other topics include: