A spotlight on plasma: Intragam P

It’s fair to say life would be tough without our antibodies. Antibodies are like little superheroes that live in our blood (our plasma to be precise), that detect, neutralise and fight off bacteria and viruses that can make us sick. For most of us our trusty antibodies go about their business without us ever being aware of the work they are doing each day.

However, for people without them, or without enough of them, there are many health risks. Fortunately we’re lucky enough to have Intragam P to provide them. Intragam P (also known as Intravenous Immunoglobulin) is a product that provides a concentrated dose of these little life-savers.

A growing number of conditions are being treated with Intragam P.  For example, it can be used when a person’s immune system is compromised and antibody levels are too low to prevent infection following chemotherapy, or in primary immunodeficiency diseases (of which there are hundreds). It is also being used to treat many conditions where our body’s immune system attacks itself causing severe problems (e.g. Guillain-Barre syndrome – a disease where some of the white cells attack nerves and causes weakness or paralysis) and even for some conditions we don’t know the cause of (e.g. Kawasaki disease which affects arteries in children).

For some of these conditions, people can require life-long treatment.

Eight-year-old Brendan is one such Kiwi who is very grateful to have received treatment with Intragam P.

At just eight months old, Brendan suddenly became ill on a family holiday to Christchurch and over the next two years he was hospitalised for septicaemia (blood poisoning) three times and for pneumonia twice.  Blood tests and vaccinations proved ineffective and his doctors were left baffled at the cause of his illnesses.

To strengthen Brendan’s immune system and prevent infections, he started receiving Intragam P. He has received over 80 bottles of Intragam P, and thanks to a weekly transfusion of antibody concentrate made from plasma is able to live a normal and otherwise healthy life.

But where does Intragam P come from and how is it made?

The only way to produce it is from plasma donated by New Zealanders.

Intragam P is a fractionated plasma-derived product, which is a complicated way of saying that the plasma from a large pool of donors is separated into a lot of different purified protein extracts. One of the most important is Immunoglobulin but other specific products are made too. Because of way it is made, Intragam P contains the immunoglobulin from many hundreds of donors, which ensures it has a consistent dose of antibodies and protects against a lot of different infections.

It can take up to two donations from whole blood donors to make one 50ml bottle of Intragam P, or three plasma donations from plasma donors to make one 200ml bottle. For Kiwis like Brendan, having a steady stream of plasma donors is extremely important.

Intragam P quick facts

  • Also known as human normal immunoglobulin
  • A concentrated source of the IgG class of antibodies
  • Made from human plasma donated by New Zealand’s voluntary donors
  • Just one of thirteen different products that can be made from plasma
  • Used for:
    • primary immunodeficiency diseases (of which there are hundreds),
    • predisposition to (risk of) infections because of underlying disease or treatment
    • immunomodulatory therapy required for people at high risk from autoimmune diseases, Kawasaki disease and Guillain-Barré Syndrome

About donating plasma

Donating plasma is in many ways is just like donating whole-blood. In fact one of the eligibility criteria is to have donated whole-blood at least once in the last two years. Whole blood is taken through a needle in one arm (the same as whole blood donations), but only the plasma is collected and the rest is returned to the donor through the same needle. The process is called apheresis (pronounced ay-fur-ee-sis), meaning ‘to separate’.

Plasma products are in constant demand with over 90,000 doses given each year and as doctors find more and more uses for plasma and its products, the demand continues to increase at a rate of over 13% per year.

Since the beginning of July 2015, over 930 whole blood donors have become plasma donors, but there is still great need – nationally we need 2800 more.

If you’re a whole blood donor, why not consider switching to plasma donation? To become a plasma donor, you need to:

  • Be 18-60 years old
  • Meet certain height and weight requirements
  • Have donated whole blood at least once in the last two years
  • Meet donor eligibility requirements listed in the donor questionnaire
  • Have suitable veins and haemoglobin level
  • Be able to donate at the Epsom (Auckland), North Shore (Auckland), Hamilton, Tauranga, Palmerston North, Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin Blood Donor Centres.

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