Plasma Therapy: Understanding the Science Behind Plasma Donation

While the world eagerly waits for a coronavirus vaccine to be unveiled, the only hopeful treatment we can rely on is Plasma Therapy. To date, 19,257,726 COVID-19 patients have been detected in the world and nearly 700,000 have succumbed to death. The coronavirus has left the world in dire straits and countries across the globe are scrambling to find a cure for it. 

One such therapy that has emerged as a potential cure is Plasma Therapy. Unfortunately, even after setting up of special plasma banks by the government, people are still reluctant to donate their plasma after recovering from COVID-19. So today let’s try to understand what Plasma Therapy is and how you can save scores of lives by donating plasma.

What is Plasma Therapy:

Social media is filled with people requesting plasma donations from those who have successfully recovered from COVID-19. Before I explain to you about Plasma Therapy, let me introduce you to the word ‘plasma’. Plasma is the fluid component of your blood that is rife with antibodies, hormones, and nutrients. Convalescent plasma is defined as the plasma sample collected from those who have successfully recovered from an infection. 

The convalescent plasma contains antibodies against that particular infection. This approach is currently being used to treat severe COVID-19 patients across India. Antibodies are the proteins that your body generates to fight a particular infection. Similarly, when you’re infected with the coronavirus, your body generated antibodies to fight the infection.

So, when your blood plasma containing antibodies is transfused to a severe COVID-19 patient, it can help that patient to fight the infection more robustly. Severe COVID-19 patients often develop a condition known as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Plasma Therapy can especially be valuable in treating such patients.

Dr. Ingale, Director-Internal Medicine, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, says, “While there isn’t sufficient data to back its efficacy, Plasma therapy is reported to help patients who are at a higher risk, such as those with comorbidities like heart disease or diabetes, or those who have weakened immune systems.”

What are the Functions of Blood Plasma?

Blood plasma

To understand blood plasma better, take a look at the following functions of plasma in your body. 

  1. It removes waste from cellular functions that help produce energy. 
  2. Transports waste from the body’s cells to kidneys for removal.
  3. It regulates the body’s temperature by absorbing and releasing heat.
  4. Contains proteins such as fibrinogen that maintains blood pressure and regulates blood clotting. 
  5. It contains antibodies that help ward off infectious diseases.
  6. Contains important electrolytes such as sodium, calcium, potassium, etc. 
  7. Reduces the overall viral load in the body. 

Can You Become a Plasma Donor?

Plasma therapy

If you have recovered from the COVID-19 infection, then you must wait at least 14-18 days to get an approval for plasma donation. To be eligible for plasma donation, you should not have any symptoms of fever or respiratory difficulties. You must also have a normal oxygen level between 95-100%. Also, at the time of plasma donation, you’ll have to undergo the COVID-19 test again. You’ll also have to undergo other tests to rule out any possibilities of HIV and Hepatitis B & C. For your doctor to declare you eligible for plasma donation, you must test negative for COVID-19 twice within 24 hours.

How Will Your Plasma Sample Be Collected?

Plasma therapy

Your blood plasma sample will be collected using a technique called plasmapheresis. During this procedure, a phlebotomist will draw your blood sample and separate the plasma from it. Usually, your red blood cells and platelets will be transferred back into your bloodstream. The whole procedure takes about 45 minutes to complete. The volume of the sample collected is between 300-600 ml. Once your plasma sample is taken, it will be frozen at a temperature of -180 degrees Celsius for up to 24 hours. A plasma sample can be stored in cold conditions for up to 12 months after its collection. 

Can You Donate Plasma Multiple Times?

Blood plasma

If you wish to donate your plasma sample more than once, you’re free to do so. Plasma is replenished in your body pretty quickly. That’s why you can again undergo the plasmapheresis procedure after seven days of your first donation. However, if your whole blood sample was collected for plasma therapy, then its recommended that you wait for eight weeks before your next donation. 

Even though Plasma Therapy isn’t 100% scientifically proven treatment for COVID-19, it can still help save millions of lives. That’s why I urge you to be a responsible citizen of this society and donate your plasma if you’ve recovered from COVID-19. Your small contribution can help save someone’s life and family.

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