Plasmapheresis is a process where the fluid part of the blood called plasma, is removed from blood cells by a device known as a cell separator.
The separator works either by spinning the blood at high speed to separate the cells from the fluid, or by forcing the blood through a membrane with pores so small that only the fluid part of the blood can pass through.
The cells are returned to the patient, while the plasma, which contains the antibodies, is discarded and replaced with other fluids. Medication to keep the blood from clotting (an anticoagulant) is administered through a vein during the procedure.
A plasmapheresis treatment takes several hours and can be done on an outpatient basis. It can be uncomfortable but is not painful. The number of treatments required varies greatly depending on the specific disease and the patient’s general condition. An average course of plasma exchanges is 6 to 10 treatments over 2 to 10 weeks.
The patient will lie on a bed or sit in a reclining chair. A small, thin tube (catheter) is placed in a large vein, usually in the arm, and another tube is placed in the opposite hand or foot. Blood is taken to the separator from one tube, while the separated blood cells, combined with replacement fluids, are returned to the patient through the same tube.
How this process works
The antibodies are part of the immune system that helps fight many diseases, from serious to mild, on an everyday basis. However, due to some diseases, the antibodies stop recognizing each other and start fighting the organism. This is when the immune system cannot respond.
For patients suffering these kinds of diseases, there are few methods of improvement apart from temporary medicinal stabilization often through immunosuppressant medications. These further decrease the function of the immune system, negatively influencing the battle between the system and their antibodies, and consequently decreasing the protection against diseases. Unfortunately, these medications have many adverse effects and are not suitable for everyone. The new method of plasmapheresis treatment delivers an alternative solution to remove antibodies from the bloodstream, preventing them from fighting the organism.
Neurological diseases comprise 90 percent of the diseases that can benefit from plasmapheresis as well as any myopathies.
Connective tissue diseases and autoimmune diseases also see major improvements from plasmapheresis.
Whilst blood plasma contains many vital proteins including fibrinogen, globulins and human serum albumin, it also may contain viral impurities which must be extracted through viral processing by centrifugation.