Kids Love Dr. Barton

Plasma For Cash

by Dr. Douglas Barton, M.D., Pediatrician 05/25/2009

I was recently asked a question by a former patient of mine who is now a college reporter and who will be spending her summer as a blogger for a financial news service. She asked about the safety of plasma donations. It seems that students at her college were repeatedly giving plasma donations in return for money to cover their weekend expenses. This practice was news to me, so I did a little research. I wish I could reference her article to give her credit for her idea, but just know that this blog entry is because of her question and the research that occurred as a result.

Plasma is the portion of blood that is not cells. Red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets are all removed, and what you have left is plasma. In the plasma are a number of proteins that are critical to our survival. There are proteins that cause the blood to clot (clotting factors) and immunoglobulins, those wonderful proteins that help us fight off infections. Needless to say, there are many patients who are short of these proteins that need them to be replaced. Also, there are numerous companies that make a great deal of money preparing plasma for patients who need either immunoglubulins (IVIG) or clotting factors. There is also a small group of patients, particularly those with severe infections or burns, that need whole plasma, called “fresh frozen plasma” or FFP.

The process of donating plasma is a little more complicated than donating whole blood. The donor is hooked up to a plasmapheresis machine that draws out the blood. The cells are all then filtered out of the blood and the rest is kept. The cells are then suspended in a saline solution and returned to the donor.

Apparently, current standards suggest that donors can donate up to twice a week. If cells are removed, as in whole blood donation, it takes several weeks to replace the lost blood, but if no cells are removed, the proteins that have been removed only require a few days to replace.

Thanks to Dr. Louis Katz, VPMA of Mississippi Valley Regional Blood Center, I now know that there are federal regulations in place for donors. There are limits on how many liters a year may be removed and there are recommendations for medical screening tests (especially protein levels) for regular donors. These rules are in place to keep donors from donating too often. This benefits the donor, keeping them from depleting their protein levels. It also benefits the company, because it ensures that the samples they receive have as much of the required protein in them as possible.

I am comforted that the process is safe if the proper safeguards are upheld. Unfortunately, one of the things I’ve learned about life is that when there is money involved, short cuts are inevitable. So, if you have a college student who has chosen to make a little bit of cash on the side, make sure that they are using a reputable donation center and find out what evaluations are done each time they donate plasma.  If they are unable to tell you, consider consulting with your child’s physician regarding the correct course of action.

Dr. Douglas Barton sees pediatric patients from O'Fallon, MO to as far north as Bowling Green.




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