Feature Story

Changing Lives by Donating Plasma

In honor of the inaugural International Plasma Awareness Week, Baxter celebrates the individuals who donate this life-saving blood product and the patients who receive it.

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As a pre-med college senior at Indiana University and an avid golfer and tennis player, Austen Rang doesn't have time to get sick. Yet when he was young, sick is all Rang ever seemed to be. After facing frequent illness, including pneumonia, Rang was eventually diagnosed with Common Variable Immune Deficiency, or CVID. For those with CVID, one of more than 175 primary immunodeficiency disorders, their body's immune system is missing or does not function properly.1 Rang's family was grateful that his physician was able to make the correct diagnosis, as PI patients often go years without learning the cause of their health problems.

Rang soon began immunoglobulin treatment to manage his recurrent sinpulmonary infections.2  The treatment, which he receives every four weeks via intravenous infusion, is derived from plasma, the pale yellow liquid portion of the blood (about 50% of whole blood), which aids in the circulation of red and white blood cells and platelets. Plasma is often collected through a process called plasmapheresis, during which whole blood is withdrawn from a healthy donor. Using an automated machine, the plasma is retained and other whole blood components, such as red blood cells and platelets, are returned back to the donor. The process takes about 45 minutes and 600-800 milliliters of plasma are obtained during each donation.

"Without this treatment, everyday would be a struggle," Rang says. "I would not be where I am today if it was not for all of the people who donate plasma."

International Plasma Awareness Week

Baxter is joining with the Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association and others from October 13-20, 2013 to recognize plasma donors and the plasma protein therapies they make possible for patients like Rang, during the inaugural International Plasma Awareness Week.

Every year, more than 22 million liters of plasma are used to produce life-saving medicines, which thousands of people receive around the world. Over 450 specialized donation centers in the United States and Europe, including Baxter's 64 US and seven Austrian BioLife Plasma centers, support hundreds of thousands of donors every year who give plasma to help address this growing, global need. BioLife donors contribute roughly 2,000 donations per center each week, amounting to over five million liters of plasma per year. BioLife's internal plasma collects are augmented by a highly-valued network of third party plasma suppliers (including the American Red Cross) which provide more than another million liters of plasma to Baxter's fractionation plants world-wide.

One of these donors is Jon Judkins, head basketball coach at Dixie State University in St. George, Utah. For the past five years, Judkins has been taking time out of his busy coaching schedule to donate plasma at BioLife, and has recruited several of his players to donate as well.

"I want my players to realize that there's more to life than just basketball," Judkins says. "I think if we can help people, why not? It's pretty easy for a person to donate and it's so important."

Once plasma is collected, samples for each donation are sent to a BioLife laboratory in either Hoover, Alabama or Vienna, Austria to be tested for indicators of viral infections, including hepatitis and HIV. The plasma is then processed into a wide variety of life-saving therapeutics, including the immunoglobulin therapy Rang uses to manage his CVID. In addition, a protein called albumin is also found in plasma and is widely used in the treatment of shock, burns, adult respiratory distress syndrome and during cardiopulmonary bypass surgery. Plasma is also used to produce therapies used in the treatment of Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency and hemophilia.

Unlike donating blood, which many people do only once or very infrequently, donors often give plasma on a regular basis. Judkins says he tries to donate about twice a week, depending on his schedule.

"I watch a lot of my game tapes [while donating]," Judkins says. "I spend an hour or two breaking down film while donating plasma to help save lives."

This frequency is critical, since it takes around 130 plasma donations to process enough plasma to produce enough treatment or product to treat one patient with primary immunodeficiency for one year. And demand for plasma-based therapies is growing, as access to proper care continues to improve worldwide and more people are accurately diagnosed thanks to increased awareness and education.

Unlike many other areas of medicine, the plasma used for these immune disorders can only be obtained from healthy adultsit cannot be produced in a laboratory or via other synthetic means. Simply put, plasma donors help save lives, Rang says.

"I have nothing but deep appreciation for each and every plasma donor," he says. "The gift of plasma makes a difference in my health, and for that I am eternally grateful."

More information on plasma donation can be found at www.biolifeplasma.com or www.donatingplasma.org.

Learn more about how plasma-derived treatments are produced at http://www.baxter.com/press_room/factsheets/plasma_therapies_overview.html.

Al-Herz W, Bousfiha A, Casanova JL, et al. Primary immunodeficiency diseases: an update on the classification from the international union of immunological societies expert committee for primary immunodeficiency. Front Immunol. 2011;2:1-26.

2American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Eight guiding principles for effective use of IVIG for patients with primary immunodeficiency. 2011; http://primaryimmune.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Guiding-Principles-I.pdf. Accessed August 29, 2013.