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Breaking down blood: Plasma

Donors with type A, B or AB blood are often times good candidates to donate plasma. Type AB plasma is known as “universal plasma” which means that it can be received by anyone, regardless of their blood type. (U.S. Army photo by Nick Conner) Donors with type A, B or AB blood are often times good candidates to donate plasma. Type AB plasma is known as “universal plasma” which means that it can be received by anyone, regardless of their blood type. (U.S. Army photo by Nick Conner)

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Blood, made up of both liquids and solids, is a vital tissue of the human body. It carries oxygen, forms clots on wounds and helps fight off infections. It can also be a lifesaving treatment for someone who is ill or injured. 

Plasma is the often forgotten component of blood. White blood cells, red blood cells and platelets are essential to body function, but plasma also plays a crucial and mostly unrecognized job. This straw-colored yellow liquid makes up about 55 percent of blood volume and carries blood components throughout the body. It also contains clotting factors that help stop bleeding — making it an important blood product to have on the battlefield.

According to the American Society of Hematology, plasma is a “mixture of water, sugar, fat, protein and salts.” In addition to transporting blood cells, plasma is also responsible for carrying nutrients, waste products, antibodies, clotting proteins and hormones — all of which help maintain the body’s overall health and can help defend the body against diseases, viruses and bacteria. 

According to the Merck Medical Manual, the major protein in plasma is known as albumin which helps “keep fluid from leaking out of the blood vessels and into the tissues.” It also “binds to and carries substances such as hormones and certain drugs.” 

While its primary purpose is to carry cells, it also “acts as a reservoir that can either replenish insufficient water or absorb excess water from tissues” in the human body. “When body tissues need additional liquid, water from plasma is the first resource to meet that need. It also prevents blood vessels from collapsing and clogging and helps maintain blood pressure and circulation.” 

“Plasma is often the unsung hero in the blood banking world,” said Navy Capt. Roland Fahie, director of the Armed Services Blood Program. “It’s an important component that is often overlooked; but in reality, it can play a large role in saving lives of service members worldwide.”

Donating plasma

Donors with type A, B or AB blood are often times good candidates to donate plasma. Type AB plasma is known as “universal plasma” which means that it can be received by anyone, regardless of their blood type. 

“Because AB plasma donors make up only about 4 percent of the U.S. population, plasma donations are always needed,” Fahie said. “A continuous supply of plasma is essential to meet the needs of hospitals and military treatment facilities worldwide. In fact, nearly four million units of plasma are transfused annually in the U.S.” 

The human body replaces plasma very quickly, therefore donors are eligible to give plasma every four weeks, or up to 12 times per year for a single unit collection. Donors who complete multiple-unit collections are eligible to give up to six times per year.

As with a platelet donation, anyone who meets the whole blood donation criteria is likely eligible to donate plasma. However, plasma donors must wait 72 hours after taking aspirin or aspirin-containing mediations before they can donate. 

Freeze-dried plasma efforts seeks to increase battlefield survival rates

The Army Blood Program, one of the service components of the tri-service ASBP, is currently involved in an effort to collect licensed fresh plasma from volunteer donors. The donations will be converted into freeze-dried plasma, a new product that may significantly increase the survival rates for service members wounded on the battlefield.  

According to Army Lt. Col. Audra Taylor, director of the Army Blood Program, studies show that giving plasma before a wounded patient reaches a hospital significantly improves the possibility of survival. 

“Freeze-dried plasma is an ideal treatment for the battlefield because of its packaging,” Taylor said. “The plasma can be easily reconstituted to its original form when mixed with water and administered in less than six minutes. This is a big advantage for our service members who are injured on the battlefield.” 

Today, six of the ASBP’s donor centers — located at Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Gordon, Ga.; Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Joint Base Lewis-Chord, Wash.; Landstuhl, Germany; and the Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii — are participating in the freeze-dried program. If you would like to donate, contact the local blood donor recruiter at those locations for more information. 

Disclaimer: Re-published content may have been edited for length and clarity. Read original post.

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