Apheresis: A new way to donate blood

Apheresis Blood Donation. Apheresis is in a new blood donation method which involves use of a special machine to extract blood elements like platelets, red blood cells or white blood cells without drawing the entire blood of the donor. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Blood Center)

MANILA – The Philippine Blood Center (PBC) has introduced apheresis, a new way to donate blood, in the aim to save more lives by providing free blood and blood products.

Simply called apheresis, this type of blood donation makes use of an apheresis machine which draws only the needed blood element from the donor and returns the entire blood back after the process.

“A cancer patient may need eight units of plasma in a week. Now, with apheresis, we can get six to eight random platelet donors in one procedure only. This makes things easier and more people get helped,” Ivan Romero, PBC’s In-house and Apheresis Department officer, said during the Dugong Bayani: Kabalikat Partner Forum 2018 in San Mateo, Rizal.

PBC started with the in-house apheresis department in July 2016. Romero said apheresis was performed “on call” during its first few months. This means they only collected apheresis blood when someone requested for it.

“We were able to collect 129 platelet units then, in 2017, we improved our facilities and we hired additional personnel so we were able to increase to 236 units. Now, 2018, from January to November, we made continuous improvements and we were able to collect 417 units,” he said.

Through apheresis, a person can donate platelets for a maximum of 24 times in a year because of a two-week safe interval between each donation.

“The downside here is the procedure itself because it’s long, around one and a half hours to two hours per collection so we make our donors feel comfortable by giving them food and we let them watch movies,” he said.

Blood donation requirements

While everyone interested in apheresis are welcome, Romero said all applicant donors are screened first — whether they can donate through apheresis or conventional blood donation.

“Our requirement for apheresis blood donors is a bit special. We want someone who’s a regular donor or has donated blood at least once, we also prefer males over females because they have bigger volume so they produce more blood and they also have bigger veins which don’t rupture right away,” he added.

The Philippine Blood Center says blood donation prevents risks of heart disease because it promotes normal blood’s viscosity or ability to flow through the blood vessels. (Photo courtesy of Philippine Blood Center)

Dr. April Andal, PBC screening officer, said there are some conditions, which might disqualify applicant donors temporarily.

These include pregnancy, acute fever, recent alcoholic intake, ear or body piercing, recent surgery, history of travel abroad and some places in the Philippines, which are Malaria-endemic places, recent facial treatment and acupuncture.

“There are also permanent conditions like cancer, cardiac disease, lung disease, hepatitis B and C, HIV infection, AIDS, STD, high risk occupation, unexplained weight loss of more than five kilos in six months, leukemia, hemophilia, trauma and transplant. We do this for the safety of both donors and recipients,” she added.

Andal told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) that people with disabilities (PWDs) are not discouraged from applying to be blood donors.

“We don’t discriminate PWDs but we do check on the origin of the disability. For example, limping or inability to walk could have been caused by the cardiac problem which is a disqualification already because if we pursue with the blood donation there could be a health problem,” she added.

New services upcoming

PBC head Dr. Andres Bonifacio told PNA that apheresis is just one of the improvements the agency is doing to better serve those who are in need of safe blood to extend their lives.

“We will have in 2019 the nucleic acid amplification test would detect applicant donors who are asymptomatic of HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C and Zika virus. Actually, we have started this when the reagents have arrived and this will increase the quality of our blood, blood products but they will still be practically free,” he said.

Bonifacio added PBC would also provide stem cell blood banking next year. The main recipients of this service would be the marginalized members of the society.

“We will give stem cell to those who have cancer and are poor and sick from Philippine Children’s Medical Center,” he said. (PNA)