How Plasma Donation Works

Plasma Therapies

Plasma protein therapies (PPTs) are considered biologic medicines, which means that unlike many of the common drugs we take which have been manufactured through chemical ingredients, these are protein-based therapies developed from human genes.

PPTs are typically given through an infusion or injection. RH-negative pregnant women, for example, receive a type of PPT called hyperimmune globulin therapy. Rhogam is a product made with human plasma and given to both mother and newborn to prevent fetal complications; hyperimmune globulin therapy is also used to treat patients with infectious diseases including rabies, tetanus and liver conditions such as hepatitis and cirrhosis, as well as those who undergo organ transplant.


Human serum albumin therapy, also a form of PPT, is used to treat burn victims as well as shock and trauma patients; it's also a relied-upon therapy in the emergency room and during major surgeries.

Plasma proteins are also used as therapy in genetic bleeding and clotting disorders, including Von Willebrand disease, antithrombin disorders and hemophilia. It takes a lot of plasma to make a plasma protein therapy product, and as many as 1,200 plasma donations can be required to treat just one hemophiliac patient for one year [source: DonatingPlasma].

Collected plasma is processed before it's turned into a plasma product; it can take up to 9 months between the time the plasma was donated and the time it's used in a therapeutic product [source: Baxter]. After being screened for known infectious diseases (including HIV, hepatitis and other transmissible diseases), the plasma first goes through something called the blood plasma fractionation process.

Fractionation was developed during World War II by biochemist Edwin Cohn, who pioneered a method for separating the plasma protein serum albumin from whole blood, a life-saving alternative therapy for those who were wounded during battle and needed plasma. Today's technologies for separating blood components include centrifugation and filtration which spins blood to separate the liquid and solid components, thermal and chemical inactivation procedures, ultrafiltration, diafiltration, nanofiltration and chromatography. Since the 1980s, some plasma proteins have been successfully cloned, including factor VIII.

Plasma Donation FAQ

Is donating plasma painful?
Most people compare the feeling of the finger prick and needle to a very mild bee sting.
How long does it take to donate plasma?
You can expect the appointment to last 45 to 60 minutes. You may be required to spend additional time completing an extensive health screening the first time you donate as well.
Do they drug test you before donating plasma?
Thirteen tests are performed on donated blood, including ABO blood grouping and Rh type, cholesterol, hepatitis, HIV, HTLV, red cell antibody screen, West Nile virus and syphilis. It is not tested for alcohol or illegal substances.
What disqualifies you from donating plasma?
You may be disqualified from donating if you're 17 years old or younger or weigh less than 110 pounds; you're pregnant; you've traveled to an area with a malaria risk in the last year; or you've had a tattoo or piercing in the last 6-12 months. There are health and lifestyle markers that may also disqualify you from donating as well. Additionally, you also have to pass a blood prick test that checks for anemia and protein levels.
How much money do you get if you sell your plasma?
Plasma that's purchased rather than donated (without compensation) must be used in manufacturing rather than in human transfusions. Source plasma donors who donate through a plasma donation center may be compensated between $20 to $50 per visit, though it depends on where you live, your weight, and how frequently you go.
How long does it take to recover from giving plasma?
The body regenerates the lost plasma after donating and it's fully recovered in about 24 hours. Healthy people can donate plasma as often as twice in one week as long as 48 hours have passed in between visits. Some donation centers recommend you wait 28 days between plasma donations though.

Author's Note: How Plasma Donation Works

Fun research fact: Just as there's a universal red cell donor, type 0 negative, there's also a universal plasma donor; anyone with the AB blood type (positive or negative) is considered a universal plasma donor, which means any person, no matter what their blood type is, can be transfused with plasma donated someone with an AB blood type. Only about 4 percent of the population has type AB blood, though, making universal plasma donors in high demand -- luckily, any type of blood can donate plasma.

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Access Biologicals. "Physicians FAQS." (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • American Red Cross. "Donating Blood." (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • American Red Cross. "Learn About Blood." (Dec. 21, 2013)
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  • Biography. "Edwin Cohn." (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • BioLife Plasma Services. "Are You Eligible to Donate with BioLife?" (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • Blood Centers of the Pacific. "56 Facts About Blood and Blood Donation." (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • DonatingPlasma. "Donor Frequently Asked Questions." (Dec. 21, 2013)
  • Dugdale III, David C. "Albumin." National Institutes of Health. Feb. 13, 2013. (Dec. 21, 2013)
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  • Plasma Protein Therapeutics Association (PPTA). (Dec. 21, 2013)
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  • The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "Facts About Blood." (Dec. 21, 2013)
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