How Is Plasma Fractionated Into Therapies

06 January, 2021

Most of your plasma is simply water. The rest of the 'liquid component of blood' contains salts, minerals, and, of course, proteins. It is these proteins which life-saving plasma therapies are made.  

However, your plasma contains a large variety of proteins, while each plasma therapy is based on only one of them. To produce a therapy then, each protein must be separated, or isolated, and concentrated. This process of isolating, purifying, and concentrating is called fractionation. 

Fractionation has not changed much since it was first achieved in the 1940s. It is still largely based on the Cohn process — a method invented by Edward Cohn, an eminent protein scientist who saved thousands of lives with his invention during World War 2. 

The Cohn method was originally devised to fractionate blood. However, it was realized that, with certain modifications, it could also fractionate plasma. 

Principally, the Cohn process exploits differences in solubility of the proteins at different levels of acidity and temperature. Basically, different proteins 'rise up' and precipitate out of the solution under different conditions. Since the method uses ethanol to manipulate acidity, it is also called Cold Ethanol Precipitation. 

The end products are purified components of plasma that are fit for injection or transfusion. These include Albumin, which is used to treat burns, shocks, and trauma. Immunoglobulin, which is used to treat Primary Immunodeficiency Diseases. And Clotting Factors, which are used to treat Hemophilia.  

That said, the process has evolved in the last few decades with a focus on enhanced purity. Indeed, there have been entirely new innovations such as chromatography that promise greater purity and cost-efficiency. However, the equipment is rare and often expensive.  

Be it blood or plasma, fractionation facilities have come a long way, producing therapies that are highly pure, safe, and effective. 

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