Ongoing medical research has led to advances in treatment for a wide variety of diseases and conditions. Many of these can now be successfully treated at the cellular level. This involves using human tissue and cells obtained either from the patient themselves, known as autologous donation or from a donor, known as allogenic donation. Many of these cells are derived from human blood obtained by a process known as apheresis.
During apheresis whole blood is drawn and separated into its individual components of red blood cells, platelets, leukocytes, and plasma. In addition, there is a small amount of stem cells from bone marrow that circulate through the blood stream. Each of these components plays an important role in the management and treatment of many diseases and conditions.
Red blood cells contain hemoglobin which carries oxygen throughout the body. In diseases such as sickle cell, these cells do not function properly because of their sickle shape. Transfusions with healthy red blood cells reduce anemia and increase oxygen carrying cells in the blood stream.
Platelets help control clotting and many patients who are undergoing cancer treatment, have recently undergone a bone marrow transplant, or are being treated for leukemia do not have enough platelets to adequately control bleeding. Platelet transfusions help restore a healthy platelet level.
Leukocytes are crucial in fighting infection and are often destroyed by certain types of chemotherapy. In addition, those with leukemia suffer from a particular type of cancer that attacks leukocytes causing them to become malignant and function abnormally. These cells must be killed by a combination of chemotherapy and radiation and often a bone marrow transplant is required. In order to replenish these cells either after chemotherapy or while waiting for the bone marrow to begin producing healthy cells, leukocytes are given to establish a normal white cell count.
Plasma is used in a wide variety of treatments. A common treatment for hemophilia involves the transfusion of plasma containing the clotting factor VIII that hemophiliacs cannot adequately produce themselves. Another life saving use of plasma is in the treatment of burn patients. Burn patients often experience reduced blood volume which results in a critical drop in blood pressure, plasma is used to counteract this and prevent dangerous drops in blood pressure.
The delicate nature of these products makes it necessary for many hospitals and other healthcare institutions to seek outside help for collection, preservation, and transportation. This is why many of them invest in outsourced blood specimen management to oversee collection drives and storage. These services require less manpower and even save many facilities a great deal of money.