New convalescent plasma collection method launched

The Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service (SNBTS) has introduced a new way of collecting convalescent plasma from donors called plasmapheresis. This is the first time the method has been used in SNBTS to collect plasma although it's used regularly for platelet collection.

SNBTS has been collecting convalescent plasma as a potential treatment for COVID-19 patients in UK clinical trials for several weeks now. When someone recovers from COVID-19, they develop antibodies to fight the virus that causes the illness. These antibodies can be found in the recovered person’s plasma and if the plasma containing the antibodies is given to patients who are very ill with COVID-19 disease, it may help them get better.

SNBTS is collecting plasma using two different methods. One is by giving blood in the usual way, where the plasma is separated from the blood after donation.

The second way is new – it’s called plasmapheresis and it’s where the donor is attached to a machine and only plasma is collected. While collection takes a little longer, double the amount of plasma can be collected from the donor compared with how much can be separated from a unit of blood and it. It allows enough plasma to be collected from each donor to treat one patient.

Usually, this type of collection would be carried out in the SNBTS Donor Centres but because of the reduction in space caused by social distancing measures, there just wasn’t enough room to introduce this new technique there as well as continue with routine blood and platelet collections. So up stepped the SNBTS Therapeutic Apheresis Services team to the rescue.

Lynn Manson, Therapeutic Apheresis Services Clinical Lead and project lead said: “We were only too happy to help out and fortunately had the space and staff resource to do so as well as our usual clinical work. The plasmapheresis machine collection method is now live in the SNBTS Clinical Apheresis Units in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Our SNBTS Therapeutic Apheresis Services team introduced this new service with help from our Donor Services colleagues, and introducing the service in a clinical environment instead of a blood donor centre is a ‘first’ for a UK blood service.

“It’s been an immensely complex initiative and one that would usually take months to achieve, but our team has pulled out the stops to introduce the service as a priority in only 27 operational days.”

“Excellent cross-specialty working has helped us introduce this new plasma collection method to support our efforts in finding a treatment for COVID-19. As collection of blood and blood components is highly regulated, we had to seek agreement from the regulator, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, to introduce this activity not only into SNBTS but also within the clinical apheresis units in each hospital. It’s been a real team effort.”

Details about who can donate convalescent plasma are available on the Scotblood website.

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