10 things you might not know about plasma.

Did you know that plasma donations account for 19% of all donations received at the New Zealand Blood Service (NZBS)?  It helps saves the lives and improve the quality of life for thousands of Kiwis every year. Here are 10 things you might not know about plasma, or as we sometimes call ‘liquid gold’:

  1. Plasma is the gold coloured liquid part of blood that carries blood cells around the body and is made up of water, proteins and clotting factors, and makes up about 55% (men) and 60% (women) of your blood. 
  2. It’s the key component in 13 different essential blood products which include important clotting factors, antibodies and albumin. These plasma-derived products are in constant demand with over 90,000 doses issued each year in New Zealand.
  3. Plasma can be collected on its own through a unique donation process called apheresis, which is a Greek term that means ‘to separate’.  Plasma donations use a clever little machine called, unsurprisingly, an apheresis machine which is able to separate the blood, store the plasma and return the red cells and platelets to the donor.
  4. Because plasma donations return the red cells to the donor, apheresis donors can normally donate more frequently than whole blood donors who are limited to a three month wait between donations.
  5. The apheresis process is more efficient; one donation can collect about twice the amount of plasma that is in a whole blood donation! It is also possible to adjust the amount collected in relation to the donor’s weight.
  6. Once it’s collected from donors in New Zealand, large quantities of the plasma are sent to a specialist laboratory in Australia to be converted into a wide range of pharmaceutical products or purified plasma protein products to give it its full name.  All blood products manufactured from New Zealand plasma in Australia are returned to NZBS for local distribution to hospitals, GP’s and midwives across the country. 
  7. More than 50 tonne of plasma is needed for these products each year.  Now more than ever, the collection and processing of plasma is a significant and essential part of our work, with apheresis donations being the preferred method of collection.
  8. Plasma donations not sent for manufacture of purified plasma protein products are stored frozen in our laboratories as Fresh Frozen Plasma.  These plasma donations are needed for transfusions, to replace blood clotting factors and occasionally other blood proteins. 
  9. Plasma-derived products are used across a variety of different applications from treating people who have lost a lot of blood, kidney patients and chemotherapy patients. It is also used to help treat some people with haemophilia or von Willebrand disease, and to boost the immune systems of people who do not have enough antibodies of their own to protect against some infections.   So, it’s not hard to see why it has earned the title ‘liquid gold’. 
  10. As the number of uses for a plasma-derived product increases, so in turn does the demand for plasma and the need for regular donors.  One product, Intragam P® is becoming increasingly useful.  It is used for treating numerous conditions where a patient’s immune system is compromised and antibody levels are too low to prevent infection.  It is also being used to treat many conditions where the body’s immune system attacks itself causing severe problems.  Some of these conditions require life-long treatment for the patient.

To donate plasma you must be:

  • Aged 18 to 60 years
  • Have donated blood at least once in the last two years with good flow and no adverse reactions
  • Meet certain height and weight restrictions
  • Be blood groups:  O+, A+, A-, B+, B-, AB+ and AB-
  • Meet all other donor eligibility criteria
  • Can donate at one of the seven Donor Centres in Epsom (Auckland), Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin.

To find out more about becoming an apheresis plasma donor, click here or call 0800 448 325.

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